MINNEAPOLIS -- In 2016, more than 700 local tobacco-related ordinances were considered by cities, towns and counties across the nation. Within the past month, restrictive local tobacco ordinances were proposed in New York City and San Francisco.
The introduction of these restrictive ordinances in New York and San Francisco continues a trend toward not only an increasing number of local tobacco restrictions, but also the introduction of more severe restrictions on retailers that sell tobacco products.
On April 27, the New York Committee on Health will hold a public hearing on a number of tobacco-related local ordinances. Four of these proposed ordinances would directly affect tobacco retailers.
- Ordinance 1131 would ban the sale of tobacco in stores that contain a pharmacy.
- Ordinance 1532 would institute a new two-year license with a fee of $340 for any retailer that sells vapor products.
- Ordinance 1544 would increase the minimum price for cigarettes from $10.50 per pack to $13 per pack and also mandate new minimum prices for moist smokeless tobacco of $8 per package, cigars at a minimum price of $8 per package, and loose tobacco at a price of $17 per package.
- Finally, Ordinance 1547 would impose a cap on the number of retail tobacco licenses issued in community districts in the city, resulting in a decrease in the number of licenses available over time by attrition, including when a retailer seeks to sell a store. The community license cap would not affect existing retailers who continue to renew their licenses annually.
In San Francisco, the proposed ordinance would prohibit tobacco retailers from selling flavored tobacco products. The tobacco products that would be subject to the prohibition would include, but not be limited to, flavored cigarettes (including menthol), other menthol-flavored tobacco products, flavored cigars, flavored smokeless tobacco, flavored shisha and flavored nicotine solutions that are used in electronic cigarettes. There is no exception in the San Francisco proposed ordinance for tobacco-only stores to sell flavored tobacco products.
The minimum price mandates and the flavor bans that now include menthol-flavored products are two of the most restrictive proposals being advanced by local lawmakers and advocacy groups. Even though retailers continue to abide by the law and demonstrate that adherence to the law by passing retail tobacco compliance checks at near perfect rates, local lawmakers continue to focus on adopting restrictions on retailers rather than work to solve the real problem of social sources.
The vast majority of underage youth obtain tobacco products from nonretail sources known as social sources. These social sources include older friends, adult-age siblings, parents and even strangers. In fact, an FDA study found that 86% of underage youth obtain cigarettes from other adults, give an adult money to buy cigarettes for them or ask someone for cigarettes. Similarly, the FDA study found that 79% of underage youth obtain cigars and cigarillos from social sources.
While these studies confirm that social sources are the primary means by which a vast majority of individuals under the legal age gain access to tobacco products, government agencies, elected officials and those advocates that support the proposed introductions have yet to develop a strategy and undertake efforts to combat the social sources problem.
If the goal of New York and San Francisco's proposed ordinances is to truly protect the public health, then the solution must be to focus on the real root cause of access to tobacco by those not of age. That is, an educational campaign is needed to change societal attitudes that it is not permissible for adults to legally obtain tobacco products and then improperly provide those same tobacco products to underage persons.
Enacting higher minimum prices on cigarettes and tobacco products, assessing a new excise tax on other tobacco products, capping and reducing the number of retail tobacco licenses, and banning the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies does not address the problem of social sources.
This underlying purpose of these proposals is misplaced and these policy actions will not serve to enhance the public health. Until policymakers take affirmative action to address the problem, then the public health will not be protected because underage individuals will continue to obtain tobacco products from social sources.