Flavored cigarette vote fails

A split City Council rejected a proposed ordinance Aug. 5 that would have created stricter rules for tobacco retailers selling flavored products. A complete ban is being considered.

Members of the ad hoc committee that had explored options for a tobacco ordinance were Councilmembers Honor Spencer and Carol Lenoir.

Councilmembers Marty Richman and Rolan Resendiz, along with Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, voted against the ordinance, saying they wanted to see some kind of ban on the products.

The ordinance as written would not have allowed new business licenses for selling the flavored tobacco products unless the business was 1,000 feet from “youth sensitive” areas. Retailers would have been prohibited from advertising the sale of flavored tobacco products in ways that are visible from the street, and investigation and enforcement would have increased from once a year to four times a year.

If a business was caught selling to minors, the ordinance would have increased fines: $250 on a first offense, $500 on a second offense and $1,000 final fine that would also ban the retailer from selling all flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products.

Resendiz and Velazquez were disappointed the ordinance did not ban the products in some way, while Richman hoped the council could reinstate the existing ordinance while it worked on stricter rules.

The council had discussed the issue in February, after which the ad hoc committee was formed. At that meeting Velazquez asked to pursue a mix of control and enforcement, while Spencer was a supporter of an all-out ban.

Spencer has since changed her tune, arguing that a ban would just push young kids to buy the products from surrounding areas in the county.

“I’ve worked with these kids every single day for the last 22 years,” Spencer said at the meeting. “What this proposes right now is to put it back on the owner and the clerk.”

The debate about the ordinance began to trigger personal animus between the councilmembers. Spencer took offense to Resendiz and Velazquez saying they were not surprised that a different version of the ordinance wasn’t produced.

“This shouldn’t be a personal thing among us,” said Velazquez. “This should be about our kids.”

As the mics were still on and the item discussion had ended, Lenoir and Spencer talked about how disappointed they were that the ordinance hadn’t passed. “My first one and I failed,” said Lenoir.

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 February 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 flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products.

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