Opinion: City Council’s faulty logic will force the closure of an iconic store

Mac's Smoke Shop, 534 Emerson St., opened in 1934. Post photo.


Daily Post Editor

If you follow the logic the Palo Alto City Council used in passing the tobacco ordinance that will close Mac’s Smoke Shop, it’s entirely possible that council will ban alcohol next.

You’re laughing, right?

Council, in a 4-3 vote on June 16, banned the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping devices such as Juul. Proponents of the ban argued that vaping devices were falling into the hands of teenagers.

Council’s response was to ban flavored tobacco and vaping gear for everyone of all ages — minors and adults.

By this logic, council should ban the sale of alcohol in Palo Alto because beer and hard liquor have ended up in the hands of underage consumers. Like nicotine, alcohol can harm the health of young people. In fact, you could argue that alcohol is potentially more deadly to youth because teens have been known to drink and drive.

If stores like Mac’s can’t be trusted to not sell to young buyers, supermarkets and liquor stores shouldn’t be trusted either.

Five stores could close

The owners of Mac’s say the ban will force them to close after 85 years. And four other adult-only tobacco shops may close as well.

Interestingly, none of the adult-only tobacco proprietors have been cited for selling to underage customers. And the police regularly send young decoys into these shops.

(At a May 18 hearing on the ordinance, one Palo Alto woman claimed her teenage daughter bought $68 of vaping products at Mac’s. But a review of Mac’s surveillance video of the day of the alleged purchase didn’t show any young people buying products at the shop. When the Post asked the woman who made this claim to respond, she declined to comment.)

At the hearing on the tobacco ordinance, those arguing for the ban seemed to think the legislation would be effective.

But kids who want to vape can buy Juul online or in Mountain View and Redwood City.

Going back to the beginning, I don’t think the council is going to ban alcohol because about 70% of the population drinks.

Smoking, on the other hand, is a dying pastime. Only 11.3% of Californians smoke, according to the nonprofit anti-tobacco group The Truth Initiative. That’s considerably less than a few decades ago when everybody seemed to have a cigarette in their hands.

From a political point of view, it’s much easier for council to pick on smokers than it is drinkers.

Quitting smoking

I think we should stop trying to shame groups of people like smokers. I smoked for about 30 years before quitting last year. To kick the habit, I considered all the alternatives — hypnotism, prescriptions, nicotine patches. I finally decided to taper off smoking by replacing it with vaping, and then decreasing my use of vaping until I quit cold turkey. I put together a 45-day plan.

The day I totally quit, Sept. 3, 2019, I had lots of chewing gum on hand to make the transition easier.

Even though I’m done with smoking, I don’t want to tell other adults whether they can smoke. You can make your own choices in life.

The thing about smoking is that it’s enjoyable. Before I quit, I was into cigars big time. I was smoking five a day. That’s the equivalent of five packs of cigarettes. That seems crazy looking back at it.

But tobacco is a drug that affects your thinking. You get a slight buzz — not like you’re doing cocaine or meth — and it can change your mood.

The downside is that there’s a good chance you’ll get cancer. Not just lung cancer, but cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, colon and a type of leukemia known as acute myeloid leukemia. And there’s a long list of lung diseases.

The honest truth

Another downside is that you smell all the time. I didn’t think I had an odor problem until one night in the newsroom when we were working on a story about a person who was at the center of a controversy because another person accused her of smelling like cigarettes. I asked a couple of my reporters if I smelled from smoking. They both nodded their heads instantly, as if they were saying, “You didn’t know?” I’m glad we have honest reporters who aren’t afraid to tell their boss something like that.

That said, I think adults should be able to choose what they want to do when it comes to smoking. Banning smoking will just turn smokers into criminals. They’re already banished from most public places. People who live in apartment buildings can’t even smoke in their own homes anymore. The last refuge for smokers seems to be in their cars.

I don’t know why we have to enforce purity on everyone. It feels like the Temperance Movement never died.

I don’t want to promote Juul, however. It was intentionally marketed to kids with enticing flavors like chocolate, “banana smash” and bubble gum.

Make it a prescription device

Juul needs to be regulated on a national basis because if one city bans it, people will just get their devices in the next town. No more retail sales. Put it behind the pharmacist’s counter and require customers to have a prescription. There are hundreds of thousands of people who stopped smoking thanks to Juul. That was the product’s original intent.

Requiring a prescription is a more effective way of keeping it out of kids hands than an ordinance by a city council.

Flavored tobacco, when it’s sold loose and not in a Juul pod, isn’t a problem. People use it in their pipes. It’s not consumed by youth. Mac’s has had its own special mix for years. Council should leave flavored tobacco alone.

Mac’s and the other adult-only tobacco shops will close because e-ciagrettes and flavored tobacco make up a big share of their business. Without it, they say they can’t keep the doors open.

With the large number of businesses that are closing due to the pandemic shutdown, it’s the wrong time for the city to be forcing other businesses to close.

Another reason to save Mac’s is the foot traffic it creates. That’s something that can’t be underestimated as we try to recover from the shutdown. Mac’s brings people downtown and they visit other businesses.

Mac’s, with its classic old-school sign, is a familiar connection to the past. Palo Alto is quickly modernizing, replacing old buildings with new ones. That’s good, to a point. But we still need familiar landmarks to make us feel comfortable. Mac’s is comfort food for a town starving for authenticity and connections to the past.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].


  1. Nothing is worse than a reformed person who puts themselves right in your face…no matter what drum they are beating…or for whom or what organization…….Thank you for being candid in your resurrection of self worth by making your choice of a probability of coming down with cancer. Long may you survive and enjoy life. PS…it’s still not too late to get a few stocks in the chewing gum companies… 🙂

  2. Oh I love Mac’s. If given a choice between Mac’s and anyone on the City Council, I would choose Mac’s. Stop this nuttiness.

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