Richmond council votes to ban sales of menthol, flavored tobacco


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.

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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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