The Sebastopol City Council approved the adoption of a tobacco retail license for the city at its most recent meeting on Sept. 15. Chief among the reasons an ordinance regulating tobacco sales and businesses was proposed is the increase of youth tobacco use through vaping.
Often the leader in health and wellness-related policy and practice, Sebastopol has lagged behind some of its fellow Sonoma County cities when it comes to regulating tobacco sales.
“I think we all are pretty familiar with the epidemic of teen vaping, of nicotine products, particularly flavored ones, and we were presented quite recently with information about how big a problem here in Sebastopol versus other cities. We here — the land of organic food, the land of healthy people, the land of people biking — have one of the worst rates of teens engaging in this kind of behavior in the county and actually we’re way above in the state. That is why we have this document today and why we’re taking action here,” Vice Mayor Una Glass said during the Sept. 1 first reading and public hearing of the ordinance.
The ordinance will take effect 30 days after its approval (Sept. 15). In the six months following the date the ordinance takes effect, tobacco retailers are expected to sell down their inventory of products that are restricted by the license. After that point, the ordinance will be enforced.
Per the ordinance, businesses that sell tobacco products are required to obtain a tobacco retail license in order to sell the product. Additionally, the ordinance outlines the following restrictions:
• Flavored tobacco product sales are prohibited
• Electronic smoking device sales prohibited
• Free or nominally priced tobacco product distribution is unlawful
• No tobacco retailer can honor, redeem or offer a coupon to allow someone to purchase a tobacco product for less than its full retail price; provide free or discounted items to a consumer in consideration for the purchase of a tobacco product; sell any tobacco product to a consumer through a multi-package discount
• Little cigars must be sold in packages of at least five little cigars
• Minimum prices, including that no tobacco retailer shall sell cigarettes at less than $10 per 20-cigarette package, no tobacco products less than $2 each per little cigar, no cigars at less than $5 per cigar
• The number of tobacco retail licenses within the city is limited to one license per 2,000 city inhabitants, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau or California Department of Finance
• No tobacco license may be issued or renewed for pharmacies
• No new license may be issued to authorize tobacco retail within 1,000 feet of a youth-oriented area
For additional restrictions and provisions in the ordinance, read the full ordinance text here.
“In this ordinance, other than prohibitions of flavored tobacco products, the ordinance is intended not to put any existing retailers out of business,” said City Manager/City Attorney Larry McLaughlin. “There are several grandfather provisions in this ordinance that assure that if you’re already in business and it’s not a prohibited product, that you can get a tobacco retail license to continue to stay in business.”
McLaughlin said that the police department will be visiting tobacco retailers periodically throughout the year to test the ordinance and make sure that businesses have licenses on file and that they’re following the provisions set forth by the ordinance.
The initial ordinance was presented to the council by the Gravenstein Health Action Coalition during the Sebastopol City Council meeting on July 6.
“We are confident that tobacco and nicotine products conflict with our youth’s ability to reach their highest potential. We’re here to discuss how a tobacco retail license could be put into place, why we believe it’s necessary to address the vaping epidemic among our youth today,” said Celosia Arcadia, chair of the Gravenstein Health Action Coalition’s Cradle to Career Committee during the July 6 meeting.
Arcadia said that, based on survey data regarding e-cigarettes, teens perceive access to tobacco products as easy or above easy, and statistics for Sebastopol show a proportionally larger percentage of students think access to products is easy compared to the county’s average.
The 2017-18 statistics for tobacco use among high school juniors show 32.1% of students in Sebastopol have used tobacco, whereas in the county as a whole, 26.5% of students have used tobacco.
During public comment of the ordinance on Sept. 1, Greg Damron of the Sonoma County Tobacco Free Coalition said that while he advocates for the adoption of the ordinance, it won’t serve as a cure-all to solve the teen vaping epidemic.
Numerous public commenters criticized the council for restricting tobacco sales, therefor decreasing sales tax revenue in the city. Additionally, commenters voiced frustration at the city for trying to tackle tobacco sales as a whole to quell youth tobacco sales specifically, noting that further education around tobacco issues may be more likely to curb teen nicotine use. With regard to flavored tobacco products specifically, multiple people pointed out SB 793, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in August, will already ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products come January.
During the Sept. 1 first reading of the ordinance, the ordinance was approved 3-2, with Councilmembers Neysa Hinton and Michael Carnacchi abstaining. Hinton was concerned about the ordinance’s impact on certain tobacco retailers in town and Carnacchi said that the ordinance still leads to too many unanswered questions.
“In a small town like this, to put somebody out of business that’s exclusively a tobacco shop, there’s only one in 15 — I feel like that gentleman should be able to… transfer or at least have consideration to transfer,” Hinton said, requesting that Sebastopol’s only retailer deemed a “significant tobacco retailer” be except from the part of the ordinance that doesn’t allow tobacco licenses to transfer with the sale of a business.
According to the 2020 tobacco control grade for Sonoma County from the American Lung Association, Sebastopol will be joining four other cities in the counties to adopt a tobacco retail license model. Other cities in the county that require businesses to have a license for tobacco sales include Healdsburg, Sonoma, Windsor and unincorporated Sonoma County.
Its 2020 grade for the city was a “B,” with the city falling short in areas relating to smoke free sidewalks, sale of tobacco products in pharmacies, retailer location restrictions, flavored tobacco sales, minimum cigar package size and the tobacco retail license.
Edited to add the Sept. 1 council vote on the ordinance.