Council to air out tobacco ordinance

Tobacco will be back on the burner Monday, when the Sonoma City Council considers the initial reading of a proposed Tobacco Retailers Licensing Program.

If passed, the ordinance would limit the number of licensees to 16, grandfathering the currently established tobacco retailers into the program, and prohibit any new tobacco sellers within the city limits.

The ordinance would also limit the licenses to the existing 16 sites, only allowing a transfer of the license if the business changes hands and stays at the same location.

Enforcement of the ordinance would be established through an annual $246 licensing fee, which would go toward the cost of a youth-decoy sting operation to test compliance of each license holder at least once per year.

Talk of establishing a licensing program has been wafting through City Hall since last year when the American Lung Association issued its 2014 State of Tobacco Control report card. The City of Sonoma received an overall “F” grade from the anti-tobacco group, failing to impress in such categories as reducing tobacco sales, smoke-free outdoor air and smoke-free housing.

City officials at that time began discussing a licensing program – which have been known to lower underage smoking rates – and at the council’s Feb. 2 meeting,

Deputy City Attorney Valerie Pistole presented details of the initial draft ordinance.

At the February introduction of the ordinance, councilmembers took issue with several key points, notably the definition of “tobacco product,” the possibility of raising the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21, and to what degree cigars would be affected by the law.

According to city staff, tobacco products regulated under the ordinance include any product “containing, made or derived from tobacco or nicotine that is intended for human consumption,” any electronic device that delivers nicotine through inhalation, and any accessories of a tobacco product.

The updated ordinance, however, does not include a raise of the tobacco-purchase age, according to the city staff report, due to a possible conflict with a proposed state Senate bill that’s also seeking to raise the legal purchase age to 21.

As to cigars, the ordinance now prohibits flavored tobacco products, “unless the package of cigars contains more than five cigars or unless a single cigar sells for a retail price exceeding $3.”

Throughout its deliberations over the proposed tobacco-licensing ordinance, city councilmembers have emphasized their desire to curb youth tobacco use.

To that end, the staff report points out that 5.6-million Americans currently under 18 “are projected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness.”

The council meeting begins at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 16 at the Community Meeting Room, 177 First St. W.

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