Contra Costa Supervisors Consider Banning Flavored Tobacco Sales to Youth

By Daniel Borsuk

Expect Contra Costa County Supervisors to have on the books at either their July 11 or 18 meeting an ordinance outlawing the sale of flavored tobacco products to youths at 93 licensed tobacco retailers located in unincorporated parts of the county.

Should county supervisors adopt the proposed ordinance next month, the East Bay county will join Yolo and Santa Clara counties and the cities of El Cerrito and Los Gatos to have passed ordinances banning the sale of flavored tobacco products to youths under the age of 21.  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 on Tuesday 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, one being 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.

County Health Director William Walker recommended that supervisors adopt the proposed ordinance that attracted more than 50 speakers, most of them calling on supervisors to pass the ordinance.

“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 a 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 prospects that 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.”

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One Comment to “Contra Costa Supervisors Consider Banning Flavored Tobacco Sales to Youth”

  1. Arne says:

    Sales of tobacco products is already not allowed for anyone under the age of 21.

    And listing long existing businesses that are located within either 500 or 1000 feet is asinine since they were there before many schools or playgrounds and those distance restrictions were not on the books when they were established. It won’t impact existing businesses.

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