Philly Adds New Tobacco Permitting Regulations

Law sets population-density limits on retailing

PHILADELPHIA – In a move that may provide anti-smoking groups with an additional regulatory tactic, the Philadelphia Board of Health recently adopted new rules on permitting for tobacco retailers, tying the number of permits to population density and proximity to schools.

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 fluctuations with the commuter population, one of the concerns Wawa officials expressed.

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.

In justifying its new statute, lawmakers said in the ruling itself: “Philadelphia has significantly more tobacco retailers per capita than other comparable cities, and low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia contain significantly more tobacco retailers than do high-income neighborhoods.”

The measure came up in the City Council of Philadelphia and passed with 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 being undermined by the new regulation, 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 begins in January 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.

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