Richmond council votes to ban sales of menthol, flavored tobacco

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San Pablo is set to become the latest Bay Area city to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products. Last week, the city’s Council voted 3-1 in favor of amending the city’s ordinance to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products citywide, including menthol and e-cigarettes; to establish a minimum pack size of 6 for cigars, cigarillos and little cigars, and to establish a minimum price for cigars of $10 per cigar. The ordinance amendment will return for a second vote at Council’s Nov. 19 meeting. Should it pass, it will take effect February next year, city officials said. The aim of the ordinance amendments is to reduce the sale of an unhealthy product that youth advocates are specifically marketed to kids with the aim of getting them addicted to tobacco. Richmond, El Cerrito and Contra Costa County have passed similar bans, along with San Francisco, Oakland, Hayward, Berkeley and several North Bay jurisdictions. Alameda is currently going through the ordinance amendment process. In San Pablo, there are between 30 and 50 tobacco retailers, according to the state Board of Equalization. Of them, 28 are within 1,000 feet of a public school, the city said.

Despite concerns from city retailers, Richmond City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban the sale of menthol and flavored tobacco products in city limits.

The council approved those and other amendments to the Tobacco Retailer License Ordinance, almost one year after high school students from the Youth Tobacco Advocacy Policy Project (YTAPP), run by Bay Area Community Resources, studied the issue in West County and presented their findings in council chambers.

The amendments also include restrictions aimed at preventing the sales of small packs of inexpensive cigars such as Swisher Sweets. Council voted in favor of setting a minimum pack size for little cigars or cigarellos of 20, consistent with cigarette packs. Exempted from the ban are single-sale cigars that cost over $5.

RELATED: Richmond considers ban on menthol, flavored tobacco

Also, the ordinance prohibits retailers from locating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds and libraries, and disallows retailers from locating within 500 feet of existing retailers. Existing retailers not in line with the distance requirements are grandfathered in unless the business changes ownership or repeatedly violates the tobacco ordinance.

Retailers are being given a 9-month period to comply with the revised ordinance, and the city plans to conduct outreach with them.

Supporters of the changes cite the health hazards of smoking, and say the tobacco industry markets to children with inexpensive, flavored brands.

On June 27, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets proposed to the city to limit the ban on menthol and flavored tobacco product sales to future retailers, allowing existing retailers to be grandfathered in. City staff and council ruled against that request.

City staff acknowledged receiving many concerns from retailers about the impact the ordinance amendments will have on their businesses.

A main concern was that shoppers wanting the banned products will go to neighboring communities to shop for both tobacco and other products. That hurts small businesses and the city of Richmond’s sales tax revenue, said retailer Abdul Talib.

“Our presence here is not to represent the tobacco industry,” Talib said. “We’re representing ourselves and our families. We don’t think this ban would help our neighbors quit the bad habit of smoking. It shifts income from certain businesses and gives it to other businesses that are not impacted by this law. We think education is the most powerful tool.”

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