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Tobacco Retail Licensing (TRL) ordinances protect the health of our youth


Tobacco Retail Licensing (TRL) ordinances protect the health of our youth

By Jared Garrison-Jakel, MD, MPH, Jacob Rich, MPH, and Ernesto Garay, MA, Russian River Area Resources and Advocates (RRARA)

According to the most recent California Healthy Kids Survey data, Sonoma County’s countywide teenage smoking rate is higher than for the State overall (13.7% versus 10.2%). Tobacco remains the #1 cause of preventable death in the U.S. and  causes approximately 570 deaths each year in Sonoma County. Tobacco use also costs an estimated $277.7 million (in 2009) in our County each year in direct healthcare costs and indirect costs from lost productivity due to illness and premature deaths.

KIDS CAN EASILY PURCHASE TOBACCO PRODUCTS IN SONOMA COUNTY: 69% of the County’s 11th graders report that it’s “fairly” or “very” easy to obtain cigarettes.  Findings from a youth tobacco purchase survey conducted in February,  show that unincorporated Sonoma County has a higher percentage of retailers selling tobacco to minors than the State of California overall (18% versus 9%).  

TOBACCO KILLS AND MOST LIFE-LONG USERS START YOUNG: Nearly nine out of ten life-long smokers start by age 18, establishing an addiction to nicotine before they are old enough to understand the harms.  This means that Sonoma County teens, and in particular those living in unincorporated areas, are at an increased risk for being life-long smokers and a laundry list of negative health consequences.  

TOBACCO RETAIL LICENSING IS A HIGHLY EFFECTIVE POLICY: Tobacco Retail License (TRL) ordinances have been passed in more than 140 jurisdictions in California including recently in Healdsburg and the City of Sonoma and have been shown to reduce youth access to tobacco on average by 26% percent. The County Board of Supervisors will be considering a Tobacco Retail License (TRL) ordinance for Unincorporated Sonoma County on July 21st.

THE ANNUAL TRL FEE IS THE COST OF SELLING DEADLY PRODUCTS: We all share the burden of tobacco use so the standards we establish for those who sell this product should ensure responsibility on the part of both the merchants and the public. With the threat to their business, the tobacco industry has organized to show their opposition to this ordinance, which  highlights an opportunity for Sonoma County residents to show their support for this ordinance and their commitment to their community’s youth and health.

The ordinance calls for requiring tobacco and e-cigarette retailers in Sonoma County’s unincorporated areas to pay a fee and renew their county issued license annually. The fees would pay for enforcement and compliance activities in order to prevent youth from purchasing tobacco products. The current one-time license fee that retailers pay of $100 is not sufficient to conduct compliance and enforcement activities.

The ordinance could be approved with or without additional policy provisions or add-ons that would significantly strengthen the effect of the ordinance. As it stands, the ordinance calls for no new tobacco/e-cigarette retailers within 1,000 feet of schools. Current tobacco/e-cigarette retailers would be grandfathered in and allowed to get licenses.  

Several recent studies, including by University of California at San Francisco researchers, have found e-cigarettes to be a gateway for smoking cigarettes among adolescents in the United States as well as making them less likely to quit. The UCSF study of nearly 40,000 youth around the country also found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent. The Surgeon General and FDA have found that nicotine found in e-cigarettes impacts fetal and adolescent brain development and that e-cigarettes also contain harmful chemicals including carcinogens. Unfortunately, most e-cigarettes are not currently regulated by the FDA, but the ordinance would define tobacco product and paraphernalia to include all nicotine and non-traditional products such as e-cigarettes so that they would be included in the ordinance. 

SETTING A MINIMUM PRICE IS THE BEST WAY TO REDUCE YOUTH SMOKING: Raising the price of tobacco is shown to be the most effective strategy to reduce youth smoking rates and is an important provision in the ordinance. The average price for a pack of cigarettes in California is $5.76, which ranks 24th in the nation and far behind leading states like NY, where the avg. cost is $10.29. A minimum price of $7 per pack of cigarettes represents a modest price increase; one that creates a barrier for youth while limiting the impact on adults.

A STRONG TRL IS ALIGNED WITH SONOMA’S COMMITMENT TO HEALTH AND TO YOUTH: A Portrait of Sonoma County, a recent report that the same Sonoma County Board of Supervisors commissioned, strongly recommended Sonoma County "redouble antismoking efforts" as one of its key recommendations to promote the overall well-being of Sonoma County residents.  The tobacco retail license (TRL) being considered by the Board  would represent one of the strongest passed in California and the Country. The TRL would effectively decrease underage access to tobacco limiting the impacts of tobacco on our community’s youth, health and prosperity. Your support of this ordinance strongly states your belief in protecting the health of our youth.

Please consider showing your support by contacting the Board of Supervisors, writing your local newspaper, and/or attending the Board of Supervisor meeting July 21st at 8:30AM at 575 Administration Drive, Room 100 A in Santa Rosa.

If you would like more information, contact Jacob Rich at or 707-478-5684

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