Tobacco Sales Permit Restrictions Rise in Philly

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

Anti-smoking groups may have another regulatory weapon in their arsenal, with the Philadelphia Board of Health recently adopting new rules on tobacco-retail permits.

The regulation will limit the number of new permits to one retailer per 1,000 residents, taking into account daytime commuters.

It will also prohibit new tobacco permits for retailers operating within 500 feet of a K-12 school.

At least one notable c-store chain, Wawa Inc., Wawa, Pa., publicly spoke out against aspects of the measure, seeking clarity on the definition of population density. Regulators seemed to have taken heed, because the rule takes into account daytime fuctuations with the commuter population.

The measure came up in the Philadelphia City Council and passed through council approval. The city’s Department of Public Health issued the official regulation.

A source close to the voting said its sponsor, Councilwoman Cindy Bass, brought the measure to address what she felt were a high number of tobacco stores in minority and low-income neighborhoods.

In addition to the population-density issue, retailers were concerned about the value of their businesses, because they would not be able to pass on their tobacco permits upon sale of their stores. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the council will more than likely address “unintended consequences” of the bill in the new term, which was set to start in early 2017.

While support for the bill was tepid, the source says the argument for reducing tobacco  use among youth was difficult to dismiss, and the measure ultimately passed.

Other tactics have emerged in recent years to limit the sale of tobacco products, including raising the minimum legal age of purchase to 21 and banning flavored products.