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Supervisors OK Ordinance Intended To Further Curb Youth Tobacco Use

Marlboro cigarettes are shown on display at a liquor store in Palo Alto, Cali...

Photo by Associated Press

Above: Marlboro cigarettes are shown on display at a liquor store in Palo Alto, Calif., Oct. 15, 2010.

After several revisions and two months of debate, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a tobacco retail license ordinance intended to reduce usage by minors and hold retailers more accountable.

The vote was 4-1 in favor of the ordinance, with outgoing Supervisor Kristin Gaspar opposed.

The measure sets a minimum pack size and a minimum price for sales; allows the county to enforce minimum age laws and a previously adopted ban on flavored tobacco products; and prohibits the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies.

The ordinance -- which will take effect on July 1 and applies only to unincorporated areas within the county -- does not affect hookah tobacco use.

In October 2019, the supervisors directed Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer to develop several recommendations in response to health impacts of smoking and tobacco use. Unlike previous meetings, there was little discussion among the supervisors before the final vote.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher noted the board had already "debated, discussed, amended and changed" the proposal.

During the comment period, public health advocates praised the board's actions, while retail store representatives asked the board to postpone any action until the COVID-19 crisis was over.

Chelsea Walczak Vircks, of the San Diego chapter of the American Heart Association, said the county's June 2020 tobacco youth use survey found instances of retailers selling to minors.

"This underscores the need for bold action," she said. "Please put the health of our kids first."

James Allison, spokesman for the California Fuels and Convenience Alliance, said further restrictions could be "the final nail in the coffin" for small businesses, justifying a delay in any new rules.

"These businesses today depend on your leadership," he added.

The board first voted 3-2 on the proposed ordinance in late October; with Jim Desmond and Gaspar opposed.

Desmond's earlier opposition involved concern that the proposed ordinance's age limits would deny people under 21 job opportunities.

Gaspar previously said she didn't support the measure as written because it pitted urban- and suburban-based retailers against rural ones, and that many young people don't rely on retail stores for tobacco.

Last month, supervisors voted 4-1 — with Gaspar also dissenting — in favor of three amendments — making 18 the minimum age for a store clerk to handle a tobacco sale, allowing the transfer of a tobacco retail license from the owner to immediate family members and establishing licensing fees.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob said earlier that the goal is to help keep tobacco products out of the hands of young people.

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