New laws to protect youth from tobacco influences went into effect this month and local health officials are enforcing the new regulations, which include prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products, such as menthol cigarettes and flavored e-liquids, within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, and libraries in unincorporated parts of the county. The sale of cigars in pack sizes under 10 is also prohibited in unincorporated areas of the county, with cigars selling for $5 each excluded from the regulations.
The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors passed new rules last summer (see related article), and retailers were given a period of time to prepare. The County’s Tobacco Prevention Project has been doing education and outreach to all tobacco retailers in recent months to help ensure compliance with the new youth protections.
A 2016 survey showed that more than 80% of stores licensed to sell tobacco that are located near schools in Contra Costa County carried flavored products, such as “watermelon” or “tropical blast” cigarillos or little cigars. Many small cigars and cigarillos are sold for less than $1, making them attractive and affordable for youth.
“These tobacco products are clearly aimed at youth and they serve as a gateway to a lifetime of addiction to tobacco,” said Denice Dennis, manager of the Tobacco Prevention Program. “These new tobacco-sales rules will help prevent our youth from tobacco influences in the community.”
The new regulations prohibit the sale of flavored “e-liquids” for use with electronic smoking devices, which also come in candy and fruit flavors that appeal to new, young smokers. A recent UC San Francisco study showed that many teens who vape would not have started smoking if only traditional tobacco products were available. Other research shows that teens who vape are four times more likely to begin smoking cigarettes a year later than those who do not.
Under the new regulations, no new tobacco retailer licenses will be granted to businesses located within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds or libraries, or within 500 feet of another business that sells tobacco.
Another provision adopted by the Board of Supervisors that bans sales of tobacco products in pharmacies won’t take effect until July 2018 after their tobacco retailer licenses expire.
The ordinance also requires retailers to examine the identification of a person who reasonably appears to be under the age of 27 before the tobacco retailer sells tobacco products or paraphernalia to that person.
Retailers not complying with the new rules can be fined up to $500 for each day they are in violation and may face suspension or revocation of their tobacco retailer license.
The National Association of Tobacco Outlets opposed the ordinance because the retailers didn’t believe six months was enough time to sell off their inventory.
Contra Costa joins many other Bay Area cities and counties to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products including Santa Clara and Yolo Counties, and the cities of El Cerrito, Novato, Los Gatos, San Francisco, and Oakland.