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Guest opinion column by County Supervisor Sue Frost–
Earlier this year, in an attempt to curb teen smoking, the City of Sacramento voted to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products (including flavored e-cigarette cartridges), and soon the County of Sacramento will be facing a decision on whether or not to follow suit.
Since this is a controversial issue that would directly impact the unincorporated areas of Sacramento County, I wanted to take the opportunity to explain to you my initial concerns with such a ban.
I want to say at the beginning that I am completely in agreement with the proponents of flavored tobacco bans in the goal of reducing teen smoking. We should be doing everything we can do keep teens from smoking, and educating them so that when they turn 21 they fully know the dangers associated with smoking.
I recognize that teens are illegally obtaining and using flavored tobacco products in greater volume, and in many cases transitioning to traditional cigarettes.
But Sacramento County doesn’t have a wall built around it, and anyone who wants to buy flavored tobacco products can easily obtain them from other nearby areas that have not banned it. These products will still be readily available in every county surrounding ours, as well as cities not named Sacramento, such as here in Citrus Heights.
A statewide ban could be far more effective for an area like Sacramento, but even then, the widespread proliferation of marijuana prior to its legalization in California proves that even national bans can be largely ineffective.
The ban also doesn’t come free. When the City of Sacramento enacted their ban, they expected that they would lose several million dollars in yearly tax revenue as a result. And in the week following the city’s decision, one of Sacramento’s oldest tobacco shops had already announced they would be closing their doors due to the expected impact to their sales.
While this may be manageable for the city, Sacramento County is struggling financially. This past budget we were forced to make reductions in services due to budgetary struggles (primarily brought on by a few large lawsuits against the County), and next year we will likely be doing the same.
I have also heard from many adults who legally use flavored tobacco products both because they recreationally enjoy it, and because they use it as an alternative to smoking. While these adults will still be able to access them in other communities, it will make it more difficult for them to access something that is legal to use.
Instead of a ban, we could instead solve this problem by increasing the penalty for selling tobacco products to a minor from the current maximum of $7,500, to a new minimum of $7,500, accompanied by a ramped up undercover shopper program. This increase in penalties could potentially fully offset the cost of an improved undercover shopper program, but at the very least be substantially less than the loss in revenue we will now be facing under the ban.
Leading up to my vote on this issue, I will be meeting with stakeholders on both sides of the issue to understand their perspectives in more detail. But more than anything, I want to hear what you have to say.
Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost formerly served as a Citrus Heights councilwoman and currently represents District 4, which includes Citrus Heights. She can be contacted at (916) 874-5491, or SupervisorFrost@saccounty.net.
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