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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday took a step toward adopting a tobacco retail license ordinance covering unincorporated areas in an attempt to reduce usage among minors and hold retailers more accountable.

After an approximately 90-minute public hearing and debate, the board voted 3-2, with Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar opposed.

The board will consider formal adoption at its Nov. 17 meeting.

If passed, the ordinance would:

  • Set a minimum pack size and a minimum price for sales
  • Allow the county to enforce minimum age laws and a previously adopted ban on flavored tobacco products
  • Prohibit the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies

“What we’re doing is important,” Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said. “We’re talking about a product that has no redeeming health benefit at all.”

Fletcher said health-related costs from tobacco use nationally are $300 billion annually.

According to Fletcher’s office, a survey of tobacco retailers in unincorporated areas found that 20% were found to sell to minors.

Not every retailer is a bad actor, but increased regulations can help ensure that tobacco products are kept out of young people’s hands, Fletcher’s office said.

Gaspar said there was good intent behind the ordinance, but it probably wouldn’t change youth tobacco usage, because retail stores aren’t their primary suppliers.

Instead, young people are getting tobacco products via cellphone apps, Gaspar said.

The county should work with the federal government on that particular issue, “but we are doing nothing in this area, and that’s entirely unacceptable,” Gaspar said.

Gaspar also said the proposed ordinance pits city-based retailers against rural ones, and negatively affect family owned businesses.

More than 30 people called in to the public hearing, most in support of the proposal. However, several business owners said the regulations were too restrictive.

Desmond said when he was mayor of San Marcos, the city adopted a tobacco ordinance and collected fees, which had good results in terms of underage tobacco use.

Some elements of the proposed ordinance considered Tuesday were overreach, including pack size. Also, requiring that retail store clerks be at least 21 to handle tobacco sales locks young people out of job opportunities, Desmond said.

Board Chairman Greg Cox agreed with Desmond on the age limitation, especially considering an 18-year-old convenience store clerk is able to sell alcohol.

“When you have inconsistencies, it really bothers me,” Cox said. “This isn’t a perfect ordinance, but I support the efforts going on here.”

Fletcher said there will be time to revisit problematic issues.

— City News Service

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