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Limiting commercial tobacco use
Proposed law creates 100-foot buffer from schools
This cigarette store recently opened across the street from Calla High. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Tobacco-related businesses ranging from cigarette stores that legally allow the use of their product on premises and cigar bars to a proposed hookah lounge won’t be allowed within 100 feet of a school in Manteca under a new municipal law that could go into effect with 50 days.

The ordinance is before the City Council for approvable of a second reading as part of the consent calendar on Tuesday at 7 p.m. when the elected leaders meet at the Civic Center, 1001, W. Center St. If the council approves it for a second time, it will become law 45 days later.

The city code change is in response to a request by Jimmy Nagi who wants to open an outdoor hookah lounge in conjunction with his restaurant at 1800 West Yosemite Avenue across from the Kaiser Hospital. Such a change was needed because the existing city zoning ordinances don’t allow hookah lounges or other tobacco-related uses such as cigar bars and smokers clubs.

Without the new ordinance such a use would be illegal under state law that precludes any uses not specifically listed for various zones in municipal ordinances.

Hookah lounges are establishments where patrons share flavored tobacco from a communal hookah.

The Planning Commission didn’t like the idea unless there was a restriction that such tobacco-related uses were not allowed within 500 feet of a school.

The council, at Mayor Willie Weatherford’s suggestion, ultimately reduced the restriction to within 100 feet of a school. Weatherford noted the 500-foot prohibition would make it virtually impossible to open such a business in almost all Manteca commercial zones due to the proliferation of schools.

But don’t take the mayor’s whittling down of the distance between a school and such uses as Weatherford embracing smoking.

“As a non-smoker, I will not step on other people’s right to kill themselves,” Weatherford said during the last council meeting.

He was more concerned about government being too restrictive and overbearing on people’s rights.

Also, he noted there was a cigarette store that just opened directly across from Calla High at Austin Road and East Yosemite Avenue where a floral shop was once located. It is definitely within 100 feet of Calla High. It would not be impacted by the ordinance as it is an existing business.

Councilman John Harris sided with the mayor — as did the rest of the council.

“There’s nothing worst, Mr. Mayor, than a reformed smoker,” Harris said of himself and his explicit attitude against smoking.

But Harris also saw it as a rights issue that needed to be balanced with public health.

Under the proposed ordinance, hookah lounges and other smoking establishments will be allowed in general commercial and commercial mixed use zones.

Restricting tobacco sales and where it can be used was a much bigger issue nearly 40 years ago. Efforts to restrict the sale of tobacco and limit areas where you could smoke routinely packed the council chambers with vocal supporters and opponents speaking out.

The verbal engagements eventually led to Manteca to become the first California city and one of the initial in the nation to ban the sale of cigarettes from vending machines where they could be accessed by teens or children.

The campaign was initiated by the late Trena Kelley who eventually went on to become Manteca’s first directly elected mayor as well as the first woman ever to serve either on the city council or as mayor.

The drive was triggered by parents angry that youth — some as young as 10 — had been buying cigarettes from a vending machine in a restaurant lobby while walking home from Lincoln School and Manteca High.

The Manteca ordinance restricted vending machines selling cigarettes to adult establishments only such as bars. Eventually the state outlawed selling cigarettes from vending machines anywhere.