Jessica Cejnar / Wednesday, April 21 @ 1:38 p.m.
Crescent City Mulls Tobacco Retail License, Calls For More Research
Though skeptical, Jason Greenough and Beau Smith will lead a committee exploring the development of a tobacco retail license for Crescent City.
Crescent City’s mayor and his colleague on the City Council said they were unwilling to dictate how businesses should run. But they were willing to give Amber Wier, program director for NorCal 4 Health, who brought the proposed tobacco retail license to the Council’s attention Monday, a chance to change their minds.
“From what the Council has been saying, it sounds like we want to at least explore the possibilities before we make the final decision on this,” Greenough said. “But I’m very hesitant to create another hoop our businesses have to jump through to do business in the State of California. It’s already difficult to do business in this state because of the strident regulations we have here.”
Before she described what a tobacco retail license can do, Wier gave Councilors a few statistics. This includes Del Norte County’s ranking in 2020 as the 45th out of 58 counties in overall health, the 51st out of 58 counties in average life expectancy and the 56th out of 58 counties in “health behaviors,” according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Wier also shared information from a study conducted by Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community. The study found that 6.3 percent of stores in Del Norte County had “healthy storefront ads” in 2019 compared to the state average of 14.8 percent. Conversely 81.3 percent of retailers had unhealthy storefront ads in Del Norte County in 2019 compared to the state average of 69.9 percent, Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community found.
All of the stores located near schools in Del Norte County had unhealthy storefront ads compared to the 70.7 percent state average in 2019, according to the study. Unhealthy ads include the marketing of tobacco products, alcohol, energy and other sugary drinks, Wier said. Many of these ads are in “kid-friendly locations,” or within a child’s height, about 42 inches, she said.
“Adults are typically taller than that,” Wier said. “When you have ads at point of sales and posters right there that have tobacco couponing or Marlborough this or Camel that, that’s kid-friendly locations. They have ads, stickers on floors. They have ads near candy and snacks.”
The Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community survey showed 22 stores that sell tobacco in Del Norte County, according to Wier. However because the data was gathered from the California State Board of Equalization, it may not have taken into account stores on tribal lands selling tobacco products, she said. According to her, the Del Norte Public Health Branch’s Tobacco Use Prevention Program (TUPP) identified 26 stores selling tobacco in the county.
“We know Del Norte has more stores that sell menthol cigarettes,” Wier said. “We also know we have more stores that have marketing in kid-friendly locations, more stores with vaping products and more stores with chewing tobacco. But this doesn’t have to be our story.”
Wier proposed a tobacco retail license as a way to urge citizens to make healthier decisions. In California, 210 jurisdictions have a tobacco retail license, though their stipulations vary based on the community’s decisions, she said.
A tobacco retail license can include a cap on the number of stores in a jurisdiction selling tobacco products, Wier said. A license can limit the sale of specific flavors — Wier mentioned Unicorn Poop and Cap’n Crunch-flavored vaping juices as examples. They can also limit discounts and coupons, she said.
Tobacco retail licenses can restrict ads near schools and in kid-friendly locations as well as limit sales in pharmacies, Wier said.
“A TRL doesn’t take away smoking from adults,” she said. “It’s just about what you want our children to see and what you want our community to look like.”
Wier offered access to studies and data on TRLs via NorCal 4 Health and TUPP.
Smith said he feels like it’s his responsibility to shield and warn his children away from tobacco products, not anyone else’s. He praised Wier’s presentation, but said a license for tobacco retailers feels like the city’s telling businesses how to operate.
“It feels like we’re going to be licensing businesses right out of town,” Smith said.
Smith also referred to a program through the Crescent City Police Department that uses under-age decoys to catch those who purchase tobacco and alcohol products for minors. He noted that just prior to the discussion over tobacco products, the City Council authorized Police Chief Richard Griffin to accept a grant through the ABC Alcohol Policing Partnership program.
Wier argued that some tobacco retailers like tobacco retail licenses that has caps on the number of stores in a jurisdiction because it allows them a corner on the market. She referred to a town-hall meeting in 2019 during which the owner of High Tide Vapes promoted a tobacco retail license so other competition can’t come in.
High Tide Vapes owner, David Gearhart, said he already has a state license that he could lose if he sells his products to minors. Noting that he IDs people at the door to prevent children from entering his business, Gearhart said he could also face finds if he sells to minors.
It’s also easier for minors to get tobacco products and vaping pens from the internet, Gearhart said, though decisions through the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx have made that more difficult.
“It’s very easy to click that little button that says, ‘Yeah, I’m 21,’ and have your mom and dad’s credit card and catch the mail when it gets there,” he said. “I was under 18 when I started smoking and I know how easy it was then to get it. It’s still easy. We do need to stop the kids from betting it, but what we don’t need is another license.”
Del Norte County District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short wanted to research Wier’s comment about businesses being in favor of a tobacco retail license a bit further.
“I’m also of the opinion that the ability to market products and the ability to buy products should kind of remain within the purview of a free market,” he said, “but as for the marketing to children, obviously the Cap’n Crunch flavored stuff, just like Amber said, it’s obvious that we’re marketing to children.”
Mayor Pro Tem Blake Inscore took issue with Greenough’s comment about creating “another hoop” for businesses to jump through in order to operate. Inscore said he wanted to learn more about TRLs before making a decision about whether or not establishing such stipulations would be right for Crescent City.
In response to Greenough’s call to his colleagues to create an ad-hoc committee to research TRLs, Inscore said it was Greenough’s prerogative as mayor to form one.
“You said you were not for this, but I didn’t hear anything about what research you’ve done, and I think that’s bad governance to take stances before we vetted something,” Inscore told Greenough. “We get one presentation and we’re already addressing that we would be against something. That is not the way I have felt we have operated as a Council in general for many years.”
Greenough said he was “just stating his opinion” that California is a regulatory-heavy place to do business, but that he’d be open to having a conversation and getting more information about TRLs. Greenough also volunteered himself to be on that ad-hoc committee.
Councilor Isaiah Wright, referring to the city’s commercial cannabis ordinance and smoke-free multi-family housing program, said the possible components of a TRL aren’t set in stone. He also pointed out that it’s up to the Council to develop something that works best for the city.
“When we worked on the cannabis ordinance or smoke-free housing we got a bunch of different things and we put it together ourselves,” Wright said. “If that’s not something that’s the taste of the Council, we won’t be doing that portion or we won’t be doing anything if we don’t find anything to help us.”
Wier said she’d like to help with the education and learning process, offering to set up empathy interviews with business owners, youth and others who would be impacted by a tobacco retail license.
The Crescent City Council established a smoke-free multiunit housing program in November. In 2010, the City Council banned smoking in public parks, playgrounds and other puglic spaces. In 2003, the City Council adopted an ordinance that established a 25-foot no-smoking space outside entryways and in children’s play areas.