Mahattan Beach to regulate tobacco sales with licenses
by Caroline Anderson
All stores selling tobacco will have to get a license from the city in addition to the state license already required, the city council voted unanimously Tuesday.
The new law, which regulates the density of tobacco retailers, their proximity to schools and the sale of flavored tobacco products, was designed to prevent youth smoking.
Several tobacco retailers in the city, the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum and Convenience Store Association implored the council to reconsider parts or all of the law, while the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and American Lung Association encouraged them to pass it.
The American Lung Association laid out the rationale for the regulation.
“Studies have shown that the density of tobacco retailers, particularly in neighborhoods surrounding schools, has been associated with increased smoking rates and that one-third of illegal tobacco sales take place within 1,000 feet of schools,” it wrote in a letter to the city.
It also said that 41 cities in the county already have laws regulating the sale of tobacco near schools.
According to the ordinance, which will get a second reading on Dec. 1 before it becomes law, stores must be at least 500 feet apart from each other and the same distance from a school. Flavored tobacco products and electronic smoking devices can’t be sold, with the exception of menthol and other mint flavors, unless the store is 18 and over. A license can be revoked or suspended if a store violates the law twice in a three-year period.
Several families who owned tobacco stores asked the council to reconsider passing part or all of the law.
Heather Kim, who owns Manhattan Beach Market on Manhattan Avenue with her husband, said the law would be “overreaching.”
Aamir Bhamani, who owns Speedi Mart on Aviation Boulevard, said that 30 percent of his revenue came from tobacco sales.
“In today’s competitive market, if we don’t keep up selling flavored tobacco, it will drive us out of business,” he said. “As we work on a very thin margin, it would be very detrimental and cause undue hardships.”
If he ever were to sell his business, its value would be dependent on the buyer’s ability to sell tobacco, he said.
“Speedi Market is my retirement,” he said. “To devalue the store would destroy my investment and retirement.”
After hearing from the owners of several stores, the council, which had been considering requiring stores to be 1,000 feet from a school or a park, decreased the distance and omitted the part about parks, so that none of the city’s existing businesses would be affected.
It also decided to make the exemption for mint-flavored products after some discussion.
Two stores on Aviation Boulevard, one of which is Speedi Mart, that are within 500 feet of each other will be exempt from the density requirement and will retain the ability to sell tobacco products regardless if ownership changes. Mayor Pro Tem Tony D’Errico made the motion to create the exemption.
“If someone worked for 20 years, that’s their retirement,” said D’Errico. “If that’s lost because of their business going away—I’m not doing that to somebody.”
After the council began looking at the ordinance in August, the LA County Department of Public Health conducted an undercover operation that found that of the 18 of the city’s 21 tobacco retail stores surveyed, two were willing to sell tobacco products to a minor.
The council still must approve the cost of the permit, which staff estimated would be between $400 to $600 in order to cover the cost of the program’s administration and enforcement. ER