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Pico Rivera Proposing a Tobacco Licensing Program


February 12, 2022

By Brian Hews

The use of tobacco and tobacco products by underage persons is an ongoing public health concern, with youths using flavored tobacco more and more.

In 2016, California raised the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 years of age, but that didn’t work; state data shows that underage people can still purchase tobacco products 20% of the time, buying at a number of retailers, including tobacco and vape shops, convenience stores, liquor stores, and supermarkets.

State law does penalize retailers for underage tobacco sales, but it stops there, and the state does not provide funding for enforcement.

Tobacco’s marketing efforts to youth, communities of color, and low-income populations significantly affect the Pico Rivera community, whose residents are more likely to use menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products. These groups disproportionately bear the burden of tobacco-related harm.

Cities with that demographic have significantly reduced the number of underage tobacco sales by implementing a Tobacco Retail License program.

Establishing such a program would require a background check of the applicant before license issuance and provide a mechanism to suspend or revoke the license if recurring underage sales occur.

Pico Rivera would coordinate with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to review underage sales violations from the city’s tobacco retailers.

To further advance these efforts, the city is also looking at prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco, which is not included in the city’s current tobacco ordinance. The new ordinance would include the license program and also ban flavored tobacco sales.

The current tobacco retailers in the city, along with any new establishments, would be required to obtain and maintain an annual Tobacco Retail Permit and be extended a six-month grace period following the ordinance’s effective date.

The period will also allow time for the city to talk to tobacco retailers and design a penalty system.

The city is contemplating charging around $320 per retailer. Currently, there are 53 tobacco retailers in the city, so the total amount would be nearly $17,000 annually.

The city can also go after enforcement funds allocated to the state’s Tobacco Grant Program, which provides annual funds to local enforcement agencies. The 2021 Grant cycle made $26.8 million in funding available in enforcement.

Dr. Monica Sanchez, Mayor of Pico Rivera, told HMG-CN, “Vapes come in dozens of flavors, such as cotton candy, chocolate, and bubble gum, which mask the harsh taste of tobacco products. Big tobacco companies market these products to youth in communities of color like Pico Rivera so we disproportionately bear the burden of smoking-related health disparities. This ban on flavored tobacco is fundamental to our efforts as the City Council to protect the health, safety, and welfare of residents, particularly our children.”