Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, July 13 @ 11:19 a.m. / Community, Local Government, Youth

Del Norte Supes Explore Tobacco Retail License Though Questions Over Government Responsibility Linger


Crescent City, Del Norte Electeds Tell Youth They're Proud, But Shoot Down Their Proposed Tobacco Retail License Targeting Flavored Vapes


After sitting through a 10-minute documentary featuring Del Norte youth discussing the attraction flavored e-cigarettes has for some of their peers, District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard questioned if it was the government’s responsibility to parent other people’s kids.

Howard and his colleagues on Tuesday asked staff to draft an ordinance that would establish a tobacco retail license in Del Norte County. But, he said, weighing a parent’s role in teaching their children to make good choices versus the government’s responsibility in preventing the tobacco lobby from “flexing their muscles to try to get kids hooked” was difficult.

“When you have changing societal norms, and you have a collapse, which we’re definitely seeing, where parenting has no longer become parenting, how do we as a government try to address these issues we’re seeing?” Howard asked his colleagues rhetorically. “You have kids. I have kids, but we parent. A majority of folks in our community maybe have a tough time parenting or maybe have a hands-off approach to it. This, to me, is a difficult discussion.”

Howard and his District 5 colleague, Susan Masten, were asked to weigh in on a debate that in March led to an impasse between the Board of Supervisors and the Crescent City Council.

District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey resurrected the tobacco retail license discussion Tuesday, pointing out that Howard and Masten didn’t attend that March 29 joint meeting. She said she wanted to have that discussion with the full board.

“I do believe in hearing from these youth and hearing their presentation, the statistics are there, the data is there (that) shows addiction is possible,” Starkey told her colleagues. “I really have done a lot of thinking on how to compare this and I kind of liken it to carseats. When my parents drove me up here in 1974 from San Diego to Del Norte County, we didn’t have any carseats. My sister, who was an infant laid on the floor boards coming up. Now, that’s unheard of.”

Howard asked Starkey what her goals were in resurrecting the debate — whether she was seeking a full license, which would control how tobacco products are sold, or a simple ban on flavored products.

Starkey said she was hoping to work with County Counsel Joel Campbell-Blair when it came to crafting a tobacco retail license ordinance. Several California counties have approved TRLs, she said, prohibiting flavored tobacco and nicotine.

According to Campbell-Blair, a tobacco retail license could be revoked from a business if they fail to meet the requirements. In addition to restricting flavored products, a TRL could control how those products are advertised as well as the density of retailers in a particular area, similar to the county’s cannabis regulations, he said.

But depending on the outcome of California Proposition 31, which is set to appear on the ballot in November, a ban on flavored products could be “taken care of on its own,” Campbell-Blair said. However, he said, a TRL “does a lot more than just a ban.”

If California voters approve Proposition 31 it would uphold Senate Bill 793, which would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products statewide, according to Ballotpedia. If it fails, SB 793 would be overturned and selling flavored tobacco would remain legal in California.

Supporters of the referendum to overturn SB 793 include Phillip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and the National Association of Tobacco Outlets. The California Coalition for Fairness, which is spearheading the referendum, received more than $21 million in campaign contributions with R.J. Tobacco Company and Phillip Morris donating a total of $10.4 million and $9.87 million respectively.

On March 29, City Attorney Martha Rice told the Board of Supervisors and the City Council that tobacco retailers could be assessed fines, criminally prosecuted and reported to the Department of Tax and Fee Administration if they sell to someone under age 21. But unless the state revokes their license, they can still sell tobacco, she said.

A tobacco retail license provides for local control and local enforcement, according to Rice.

On Tuesday, supervisors viewed the documentary “Born to Breathe,” created by NorCal 4 Health and featuring students from Del Norte, Mendocino and Humboldt counties.

In that video, the students pointed out that tobacco companies use bright colors, flavors such as sour apple and water melon to “trick kids into thinking that it’s just some harmless thing you can do once or twice and you’ll be fine.”

“The problem is they’re able to access it,” said DNHS student Sriya Joshi. “And the marketing behind it is designed to entice kids because if you start young, you’re going to become customers for the rest of your life.”

But, according to District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short, who attended the March 29 joint meeting, said one part of the conversation that may have led to the impasse between the city and county was the youth’s testimony that they weren’t buying e-cigarettes in local stores.

“They were getting the vapes from other sources,” he said. “By the kids’ own testimony, getting the vapes illegally from the retailers wasn’t happening. I believe that’s why we couldn’t come to a decision.”

During public comment, Denise Doyle-Schnacker, a member of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Del Norte, said her kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade students know what the flavors are when it comes to vaping products even though they’ve never smoked. They’re exposed to it every time they walk into a convenience store, Doyle-Schnacker said.

“As they go in to get a treat, right at eye level or just behind where you’re paying your money, you can’t miss it,” she said. “This is an insidious way of targeting littles.”

Del Norte County resident Sam Strait, said he didn’t grow up in a family that smokes and he himself doesn’t smoke. But, he asked, “when are children going to learn how to make appropriate decisions?”

“When are they going to be able to do it on their own and become productive adults and be able to make appropriate decisions if the powers to be make them for them all of their lives beginning when they’re children?” Strait asked.

For her part, Masten, saying the blatant use of vapes at Del Norte High School is “not OK,” said the Board of Supervisors should explore creating a tobacco retail license. She said she also wanted to take up the offer from NorCal 4 Help in educating local businesses how they could be more responsible when selling tobacco.

Board Chairman Gerry Hemmingsen, who on March 29 was on the fence over imposing a tobacco retail license, spoke on Tuesday of leveling the playing field.

“Kids are not on a level playing field,” he said. “They cannot compete against big tobacco companies and the amount of money they’re putting into advertising to draw these kids in. And we’re here to level the playing field.”


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