Council considers banning flavored tobacco

After several community members voiced concerns about flavored tobacco products at past council meetings, Hollister City Council members directed city staff to put together a report on the issue.

Flavored tobacco products like popular Juul pods and e-cigarette products have been the subject of national debate, with many arguing the flavors target young people, even though sales to persons under 21 are illegal. A ban was proposed on the state level in November 2018, and neighboring cities and counties already restrict or ban the sale of flavored tobacco products.

According to the staff report, Berkeley, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Oakland, Marin County, Sausalito, Half Moon Bay, Santa Clara County, Portola Valley, Richmond, Windsor, San Mateo County, Cloverdale, Saratoga, Fairfax, San Leandro, Hayward, Contra Costa County, Los Gatos, El Cerrito, Novato and Sonoma all restrict or ban these products.

Bill Avera let the council know that San Francisco’s ordinance was challenged by referendum, but was maintained through a public vote. Avera said after a meeting of Hollister’s Youth Committee that the committee recommended the city ban all flavored tobacco products.

Ultimately the council directed staff to consult with business owners and community youth in order to draft an ordinance.

Avera told the council there are currently three designated “smoke shops” in Hollister and around 13 storefronts that sell flavored tobacco products.

Many residents came to the meeting to speak about a potential ordinance. Sergio Amezquita, owner of Greenrush smoke shop, said an all-out ban on flavored tobacco could hurt, if not ruin, his business.

Other residents came to speak to the council wearing shirts that read, “Protect Hollister Youth.” District 3 Councilmember Honor Spencer said her work at the city’s high school has showed her what a serious issue electronic cigarettes have become.

“This is a real problem and I give these kids credit for stepping up, and I think we really need to crack down on this now,” said Spencer. “It’s an epidemic.”

Hollister Police Chief David Westrick told the council that officers typically issue one to three citations a week for underage use of tobacco products. The punishment for the infraction is probation.

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez hoped to pursue a mix of control and enforcement, while Spencer was a supporter of an all-out ban. The council told staff to move quickly in consulting the community and bringing a draft ordinance to the council in an effort to gain control of the issue.

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