Berkeley doesn’t want you to smoke.
So much so the city’s municipal code is loaded with smoking restrictions that would be an envy of IRS bureaucrats in charge of writing 1040 form instructions.
Among them is a prohibition of new permits to sell tobacco products within 1,400 feet of schools and parks, banning smoking on sidewalks within commercial areas, prohibiting smoking within 25 feet of openings to building — vents, doorways, and windows — and places such as ATMs, no smoking on bike paths or parks, and banning smoking in condos to name just a few.
Now Berkeley wants to ban anyone currently selling tobacco products from doing so within 1,000 feet of a school or park.
In case you are wondering, this is much more restrictive than Berkeley laws governing marijuana, alcohol and even those targeting gang behavior. There’s nothing surprising about that.
What’s amazing is that anyone in Berkeley is still brazen enough to use tobacco let alone sell it.
The latest bid to use government powers to modify personal behavior comes on the heels of last November’s successful vote in Berkeley to impose a one cent per ounce tax on soda, energy drinks, and other sugary drinks.
With all of its self-proclaimed radicalism, Berkeley with each passing day acts more and more like King George and less and less like the American revolutionaries.
They’ve traded “don’t tread on me” to “don’t dare not follow the norm.”
In this case it is the norm for Berkeley.
Yes, secondhand smoke and obesity are serious issues. But so is government overreach.
If it is already illegal to sell cigarettes to minors, how is making it illegal for businesses that have been selling tobacco products already that are within 1,000 feet of a school or park going to make a difference? One must assume Berkeley already enforces existing laws. So perhaps the real goal is to remove all visual signs of tobacco products from the eyes of impressionable children.
If it is, then someone had better cue up the canned laugh track. This is the same city that had no problem what so ever with sidewalk racks selling the now defunct Berkeley Barb underground newspaper that had a third of its pages jammed with ads for X-rated products and movies as well as personal sex ads available to anyone with a quarter including children. But hey, that’s freedom of expression and it’s OK as long as the powers that be condone it.
You can make a pitch that tobacco products can make others who chose not to use them sick. Fair enough. But you can’t say the same about soda and those who are obese.
The city that picked up the mantel of the Free Love movement and merged it with the Free Speech movement acts less like the idyllic Berkeley of the 1960s where individuals, uniqueness, and those in the minority were embraced and celebrated and more like one that reflects the lessons that George Orwell described in “Animal Farm.”
The revolution doesn’t always deliver its promise of a less totalitarianism regime especially when certain animals in the barnyard finally get control and opt to make their needs and views more equal than those that belong to other animals. And they do it while proclaiming to the world they are tolerant and benevolent leaders.
Freely translated, since they are imposing the will they embrace on others it is OK.
Berkeley certainly has more than enough ammo on its books to keep the purveyors of tobacco products at bay. But there is never enough ammo when your goal is to get rid of all traces of behavior that you don’t tolerate.
That’s why the one cent tax per ounce on sugary drinks is just the opening volley.
The day will soon come when Berkeley will ban the selling of sodas from vending machines because children can access them on their own. Next there will be a prohibition against selling sodas within 1,000 feet of a school or park.
If you think it sounds absurd, how is that any different than what has been done with cigarettes?
Banning vending machines selling cigarettes makes sense as tobacco can cause health problems, is addictive and kids shouldn’t be using them, right? Then how is that different than the arguments being used to go after soda and its impacts on kids?
The same arguments that apply to cigarettes being a health issue are being used in the war on soda. It isn’t a leap for zealots to push for a ban of soda sales within 1,000 feet of schools whether it is at a 7-Eleven, Taco Bell, supermarket, or some corner mom & pop store.
Even if you are like me and abhor smoking and don’t drink soda and such, battling government overreach should still concern you. Sooner or later they will be coming after you and your “vices” much like the fine tolerant folks did at Salem.
If you doubt that, ask someone who was around in the 1980s if they ever dreamed that the campaign against cigarettes would be replicated against soda.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.