Will only affect 93 retailers in unincorporated parts of the county
By Daniel Borsuk
Expect Contra Costa County Supervisors to have on the agenda at either their July 11 or July 18 meeting an ordinance that will further prevent the sale of flavored tobacco products to customers under the age of 21 at 93 licensed tobacco retailers located in unincorporated parts of the county.
The proposed ordinance aims to increase enforcement of current state law that prohibits the sale of tobacco products especially flavored products to anyone under the age of 21. Although county officials claim three- to four percent of the 93 retailers in unincorporated Contra Costa County illegally sell flavored tobacco products to underage customers, District 1 Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond claims that figure could be as high as 10 percent.
The proposed Contra Costa County ordinance requires “identification from a person who reasonably appears to be under the age of 27 years without first examining the identification of the recipient to confirm that the recipient is at least the minimum age under state law to purchase the tobacco product or tobacco paraphernalia.”
The county has no plans of increasing the $287 a year retailer licensing fee should supervisors approve the ordinance, said County Public Health Director William Walker, who recommended that supervisors adopt the proposed regulation.
Should supervisors adopt the proposed ordinance next month, the county will join Yolo and Santa Clara counties and the cities of El Cerrito and Los Gatos to have passed ordinances enforcing the ban. Yolo and Santa Clara counties and Los Gatos have gone the extra mile to ban the sale of menthol flavored cigarettes that are a leading contributor to heart and lung disease related deaths, especially among African Americans.
Supervisors balked at acting on a proposed ordinance aimed to protect youth under the age of 21 from buying flavored tobacco products including e-cigarettes, vape pens, e-liquids, snuff, chewing tobacco, little cigars, cigarillos, hookah tobacco, and vapor solutions for electronic smoking mainly because they could not agree on some technical issues. Those included whether a retailer selling these products should be 500 feet or 1,000 feet from either a school, library, park, or playground.
County records show 48 of the 93 licensed tobacco retailers in unincorporated Contra Costa County are within 1,000 feet of a school, park, playground or library. Some 57 retailers are located within 500 feet of another tobacco retailer and 13 of these 57 stores are also within 1,000 feet of a school.
Saying she prefers setting a 500-foot distance, District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill said it is important for the board to draft an ordinance that supervisors can be satisfied with, so that elected officials on city councils in the county will be potentially interested in adopting similar anti-flavored tobacco product ordinances.
Supervisors heard more than 50 speakers including students, parents, and community organization leaders urge supervisors adopt the ordinance in order to protect the health of children.
“Smoking is a pediatric disease, “said Dr. Walker. “It is a leading factor for why this county spends $334 million a year in medical costs per year. Flavored tobacco products are the gateway products to being a habitual smoker.”
Ninety percent of United States smokers began to smoke on average by age 18, he said.
Walker estimates the county receives $30 million in all tobacco sales tax revenue a year, a figure that includes tax revenue from flavored tobacco product sales in the county.
Dr. Phillip Gardener of the University of California San Francisco encouraged the board to adopt the ordinance noting how menthol flavored tobacco products are a major contributing factor for a high death toll in African American community. “Menthol flavored tobacco products are starter products for our youth,” he said.
“While store employees try to keep these products out of the hands of youth, the reality of the problem is that these products do get into the hands of our youth,” said Rachel Lazarus of the Contra Costa Tolerance Prevention Coalition. “This ordinance will control this problem.”
With the prospect the tobacco industry might file a lawsuit to block the county from enacting the ordinance, Jag Sing, a board member representing 12 Contra Costa County 7-11 Stores, opposed the proposed ordinance saying “No retailer wants to sell to minors. Let’s work together.”
East Richmond Heights MAC Formed
In other action, supervisors approved the creation of the East Richmond Heights Municipal Advisory Council. The council will consist of five members and two alternates to advise District 1 Supervisor John Gioia on community issues. The MAC will cost $3,000 for administrative expenses per year.