Santa Cruz City Council to consider tobacco retail license fee: Funds would be used to fight underage cigarette sales

Following in Watsonville’s footsteps, the Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday will weigh the creation of an tobacco retail license fee to fund programs designed to reduce access to cigarettes by minors.

The council will vote on directing staff to study how many businesses would be affected and how the fee would be administered. The council would consider an actual proposal later.

In August, Watsonville City Council passed a similar measure, the first of its kind in the county, to charge retailers $255 annually for a license to sell tobacco. The program is expected to raise more than $15,000 from 61 retailers, money that would support education programs and decoy stings designed to ensure retailers are checking IDs.

A customer stocks up on Marlboro Reds at Ron and Bridgette's Place in...

A customer stocks up on Marlboro Reds at Ron and Bridgette\’s Place in…

Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin is recommending the license fee now because “there will be community support for it” and because it will take time to document the rates of tobacco sales to minors. Staff also must still determine whether the fee is subject to Proposition 26, the recently passed state measure requiring voter approval for some taxes and fees.

Interim Police Chief Kevin Vogel said the department does not currently conduct tobacco decoy stings, adding, “It’s my anecdotal sense is that it’s occurring out there, but hasn’t come on our radar as a problem.” But he noted that Watsonville police weren’t sure how widespread a problem they had until they studied it.

Thirteen-year tobacco retailer Ron Venturi, who owns Ron and Bridgette’s Place with his wife, has long anticipated the city would pass a fee like nearly 80 other jurisdictions in California. He said he understands the desire to curb illegal sales to teens.

“We don’t sell to minors,” he said. “We have children. They don’t smoke. We wouldn’t want someone selling to our children.”

But he also said another fee will make doing business difficult. “Basically, we’re being fined for not doing anything wrong,” he said, adding that he will have no choice but to pass the cost along to his customers.

The city created an Alcohol Sales Permit Fee 12 years ago to fund a police education and compliance program about alcohol sales.

Rotkin said he is sympathetic to small businesses, but said retailers that sell a product proven to pose serious health risks should have to fund programs that address negative impacts.

“I don’t have a problem if you drive the tobacco industry out of business,” Rotkin said. “They are selling death and I don’t see that we need to support them.”

The council will weigh the fee study during its 3 p.m. session.

source: santacruzsentinel.com

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