Ryan McDonald

City adds rules for tobacco sales

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by Ryan McDonald

Hermosa Beach will institute new restrictions on tobacco sales next year, requiring an additional permit for stores wanting to sell tobacco and limiting the availability of flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes.

The City Council approved an ordinance with the new restrictions at its Tuesday night meeting, but asked that it not go into effect until June 1, 2019, in order to give businesses in the city time to comply. It also waived the permit fee for existing businesses for the first year. Once it kicks in, businesses will have to pay an annual fee of $344 in order to sell tobacco products, and will be subject to civil penalties for violating the ordinance, in addition to the existing state criminal laws governing sales of tobacco to minors. The ordinance does not ban the sale of unflavored tobacco or cigarettes, although a separate provision of the city code does prohibit smoking of any kind in public places.

The delay and fee waiver were an attempt to soften the blow for local convenience store owners, who showed up voicing unanimous opposition to the proposed ordinance. Councilmembers said they were sensitive to concerns about burdening businesses with regulations, but that they were convinced by data from public health officials that the ordinance was necessary.

Specifically, the council sought to address the dangers of what public health officials describe as a resurgence in youth smoking, driven largely by e-cigarettes. They cited the results of the recent California Healthy Kids Survey to support this position. According to results from the survey, which was conducted last fall, 28 percent of 11th graders in the Beach Cities described themselves as e-cigarette users, and 81 percent said they could easily obtain e-cigarettes or vaping devices, a higher percentage than traditional cigarettes.

“With the information provided by staff and the recommendations before us, and we all know this issue is becoming worse as we go, I think taking an action that improves public safety for our minors, for our kids is the right thing to do,” said Councilmember Hany Fangary.

Hermosa convenience store operators — including Lana Istwani of the Green Store, Paul Mance of Mickey’s Deli, and Christine Ashley of Ashley’s Deli — said they recognized the dangers of e-cigarettes, but questioned why they were being penalized, especially when many of them did not sell them, and were diligent about not selling tobacco to minors. The businesses already require a state license to sell tobacco, and pointed to a $75,000 grant the city received, intended to assist the police department with enforcing tobacco sales laws — which was announced earlier in the meeting — as reason that the additional layer of bureaucracy was unnecessary.

“I feel like you are saying it’s the retailers’ fault. You guys are putting in on us,” Mance said.

Jessica Barrington-Tremis, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, said that research she participated in indicates that cities which adopt a licensing scheme like the one proposed for Hermosa tend to see a decline in all categories of youth smoking, including e-cigarettes. But retailers and several residents said that the real problem is with online sales, where they said kids could obtain e-cigarettes far more easily than in stores.

Mayor Stacey Armato, the lone no vote on the ordinance, said she was able to order “five packs” of e-cigarettes over the internet during public comment, and did so while supplying a false address.

“I agree with the restrictions and the spirit of this ordinance…but I’m not convinced that we need another license for our business owners,” Armato said.

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