The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Photo Gallery

Sonoma County Passes Tobacco Retail License Ordinance


Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Passes Historic Tobacco Retail License Ordinance

On March 29th, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors passed a tobacco retail license (TRL) ordinance that will support the County’s goal of protecting children from tobacco addiction. The TRL contains a number of provisions aimed at reducing youth access to tobacco, including setting a minimum price of $7 on a pack of cigarettes that will go into effect on January 1, 2018, making Sonoma County the first California locality to do so.

“The adoption of the Tobacco Retail License gives the County the opportunity to implement strategies aimed at protecting our youth,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Efren Carrillo. “It is also a recognized strategy to reduce health disparities identified in A Portrait of Sonoma County, which included the recommendation to reduce smoking in the County.”

The ordinance sets a minimum price for a pack of cigarettes at $7, which is intended to keep price-sensitive youth from starting their habit early. It is scheduled to take effect January 2018 to allow county staff to coordinate further implementation of the plan with cities, with the goal of having a countywide minimum price per pack. The average price of a pack of cigarettes in California is only $5.76, ranked 24th in the country.

Other components of the TRL include a certification for healthy retailing for store owners aimed at reducing youth access to tobacco and encouraging health habits; no sales of tobacco products in pharmacies; no sales within a 1,000 feet of K-12 schools; and no entrance into retail outlets that sell primarily tobacco and tobacco related products (referred to in the ordinance as “significant tobacco retailers”) for those under 18 years of age.

Most tobacco users start smoking as young adults. Roughly 90% of life-long smokers started using tobacco products before turning 18.

A recent 2015 youth purchase survey conducted by DHS found that 18% of retailers in unincorporated Sonoma County sold to underage youth. The statewide average of illegal sales to minors in 2015 is 7.6%.

“Our TRL serves as a model for the entire state as we work diligently with our community partners and cities to deter youth smoking,” stated Supervisor Shirlee Zane, liaison to DHS. “Smoking remains the number one preventable cause of death and disease locally and nationally, and I am proud that we took this step today toward a healthier community.”

The Healthy Retail component of the ordinance encourages retailers to move toward making their stores places that promote healthy food and beverage choices. This effort will increase access to fresh foods in neighborhoods where residents experience food scarcity. Further, the TRL helps to protect youth from unregulated and emerging products such as electronic cigarettes or e-cigs, by ensuring e-cigs are regulated and monitored just like any other tobacco product. Multiple violations of the TRL could result in retailers losing their license to sell tobacco.

In addition, DHS will lead efforts to ensure retailers are complying with state laws that prohibit sales to those younger than 18 through youth purchase surveys and by working with the Sheriff’s Office to run decoy operations on a periodic basis.

All tobacco retailers in unincorporated Sonoma County will be required to obtain a license with the Department of Health Services (DHS) by July 1, 2016.