Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023 @ 5:02 p.m.

Crescent City Council Members Say A Tobacco Retail License Won't 'Put the Hammer Down' On Local Businesses

Photo: Ecig Click, via Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons License.


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After one merchant said she and other tobacco retailers are already buckling under the weight of regulation, Crescent City council members sought to assuage fears and provide clarity on what they could expect from a local ordinance.

The elected officials assured business owners Monday that apart from asking them to change how they may be advertising tobacco products, the city wasn’t asking them to make drastic changes to how they operate.

Council members also committed representatives with the Tobacco Free Del Norte Coalition, the county’s Tobacco Use Prevention Program and the Crescent City Police Department to speak with each retailer individually.

Crystal Yang, TUPP’s health education coordinator, readily agreed to that plan.

“I might even come into your store and say hi and I’ll let you know whatever you’ll need to do to comply with the ordinance,” she said. “I’ll talk you through it, walk you through it. If you need any help or resources I’ll be happy to help you. I have signs. I will make informational resources to make the ordinance digestible and easy to understand. Please reach out to me.”

Crescent City council members asked City Attorney Martha Rice to modify the draft ordinance so fees would not be necessary to apply for a tobacco retail license. Mayor Isaiah Wright asked that the ordinance be "jerk-proof" — the city would issue multiple warnings before citing and fining a business owner for violations.

Mayor Pro Tem Blake Inscore urged staff to make it plain that the city wouldn’t impose citations and administrative fines on a retailer that had already been cited and fined for state violations.

“We’re not going to come and double up because we find out the state nailed somebody,” Inscore said. “All we want to know is, was it corrected. We’re not going to come in and put another citation on top of a state citation.”

Inscore emphasized the proposed tobacco retail license ordinance isn’t about making money, it’s about compliance and education.
However, Rice said the city could issue a warning and make sure the business did comply with the state and local ordinance.

Councilor Kelly Schellong said the tobacco retail license’s aim is to curb the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to minors. The stipulations concerning advertisement is commonsense, she said.

“You don’t advertise a vape to a child, to me that’s common sense,” she said. “And I think you’re all going to pass that with flying colors after you hear from Crystal and it’s going to be, I think, relatively simple.”

According to Rice, 10 retailers currently sell tobacco within city limits. If councilors approve the proposed ordinance, Safeway and Rite Aid would have to cease selling tobacco products since it would be illegal for pharmacies or stores that contain pharmacies to sell those items.

Under the proposed ordinance, a tobacco retail license would be transferable if the retailer sold their business, though the location couldn’t change. It also stated that currently only tobacco retailers operating as of March 20, 2023, would be able to obtain a license. No new licenses would be issued until the number of stores within city limits dropped down to less than the state average of two per 2,500 residents.

Tobacco advertising must also be kept at least five feet away of any toy, candy, snack or non-alcoholic drink display, according to the ordinance. And no publicly visible tobacco advertisement can be located within 500 feet of pools, parks, playgrounds or any other place where children congregate — Rice pointed out that this stipulation is already in effect.

The ordinance does impose fines of $100, $200 and $500 based on the number of offenses, though citations can be appealed within 15 days. If an administrative citation is imposed, the business would have their tobacco retail license revoked for 60, 90 and 120 days for every first, second and third violation within five years.

If the business violates the ordinance a fourth time within that five-year period, they would be ineligible to obtain a new tobacco retail license for five years, according to the ordinance.

Rice pointed out, however, that enforcement is discretionary in the city.

“Typically in all of our enforcement cases, whether it’s code enforcement-type stuff, our goal is compliance,” she said. “And you achieve that through education. If education doesn’t work, sometimes enforcement does become required.”

During Monday’s discussion, one business owner asked if it was the Council’s intent to conduct sting operations to catch people selling to minors.

According to Yang, who got the information from the Food and Drug Administration, the state last conducted compliance checks, or stings, in Crescent City in 2015. The Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office also conducted compliance checks using decoys in 2019. While the state operation found no violations, Yang said she found a 2020 article from the Triplicate stating that five out of six retailers sold tobacco to minors.

Sabina Renner, owner of C. Renner Petroleum and RNS Fuels, said it was one of her employees that sold to a minor. She said the employee gets cited and has to go to court. She, as the owner, has to deal with the state, which includes paying a fine as well as stating what action she took against the employee.

Renner said she fired that employee, though he had worked for her for roughly 15 years.

“There were a lot of people in that store and he just did not ask for (ID). It was a total mistake,” she said. “That does happen, but I can guarantee that it’s not happening on purpose and we are heavily regulated.”

Renner said she felt there could be a better way to keep cigarettes and tobacco products away from children.

“None of us want kids to smoke. We don’t,” she said. “But I will fight back on regulations toward the employer and the businesses because that’s my job. I have a lot of businesses here and only one sells tobacco.”

The Crescent City Council reconsidered their stance on a tobacco retail license in March, about a year after high school students told them that flavored products get their peers hooked on e-cigarettes in particular. The renewed discussion followed California voter approval of Proposition 31, which upheld a ban on flavored tobacco.

The Crescent City Council asked Rice to draft an ordinance that mirrored Del Norte County’s. In April, the Board of Supervisors modified its tobacco retail license ordinance so the license would be transferable.

On Monday, Yang reminded councilors that Del Norte County has one of the highest smoking rates in California. About 22 percent of

Del Norte County adults smoke, she said. According to a 2021 California Healthy Kids Survey, about 22 percent of high school juniors stated they used e-cigarettes, Yang told councilors.


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