At the June 24 Livermore City Council meeting, councilmembers unanimously voted to introduce an ordinance to establish a city-wide ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including electronic devices and any fluids that can be used to deliver nicotine in an aerosolized or vaporized form. Adults as well as youth will be affected.
According to a Flavors Hook Kids in Livermore press release, Livermore will be only one of two cities in the country along with San Francisco to ban electronic delivery devices. Livermore will be the first to enact a ban, since San Francisco's ban will not be fully implemented for seven months.
All new tobacco sales within 1,000 feet of youth populated areas, such as schools, parks, playgrounds and commercial day care facilities, would be prohibited. In addition, any existing or future businesses in the city that sold tobacco products would require a tobacco retail license, which would need to be renewed annually. Businesses would have to submit to an annual Livermore Police Department inspection. City attorney Jason Alcala explained that there will be a second reading, including information about license fees. If adopted at that point, the ordinance would become active in 30 days.
Susan Frost, Special Projects Coordinator, noted that there are 71 existing tobacco retailers in Livermore. Over half are located within 1,000 feet of youth populated areas. These retailers would be allowed to continue as is, but could not be expanded. All 71 of the tobacco retailers were notified of an informational meeting planned on June 19; only 4 people attended. The attendees stated that they were very diligent in checking identifications and did not sell to minors. They felt the city should focus on the businesses that sold to minors, and increase the penalties in those cases.
Lieutenant Jason Bobert of the Livermore Police Department discussed a decoy operation in April 2019 targeting sales of tobacco products to minors. “In 50% of the cases, tobacco products were sold to the minor decoys”.
Christine Martin, Deputy City Manager, described a recommendation from the Intergovernmental Committee members to adopt a resolution “supporting a tobacco free and vaping free community, and ask the city to address tobacco retailing and vaping devices to protect the health of an entire generation from becoming exposed to nicotine”.
Approximately 40 cards were submitted by the audience for public discussion. Many of the speakers made similar remarks. The majority supported passage of the ordinance.
Michael Rovebrand agreed that minors should not have the ability to access nicotine and tobacco. However, as an adult, he felt that the option of choosing conventional cigarettes or e-cigarettes should be his.
Cyrus Maliczoda switched to electronic cigarettes from tobacco. “As an adult, I can make these choices. Why are my choices being made for me? I am asking you to keep our freedoms of choice. Don’t make me a casualty of the war on smoking.”
Owners of businesses that sell tobacco products and their employees stated that they monitor all patrons, no matter what age they may appear. They believed that as owners they are now becoming collateral damage. They felt that the ordinance might cause them to go out of business. Mike Ali suggested getting all the retailers together to discuss solutions, rather than pass the ordinance and shut down businesses. Aseem Ali noted that there was no financial impact study done to assess the effect on businesses. It should be done, Ali stated. “A scalpel is a much better tool to use in this case than a hammer.”
Amy Pack, representing the American Heart Association, spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance. The best way to prevent tobacco illness and death is to keep youths from starting to smoke in the first place
Members of the Alameda County Tobacco Control Coalition support the ordinance. Brian Davis noted that Juul is an everyday part of the lives of 16- and 17-year-olds in the schools. Serena Chen related that she stood before the council 24 years ago when Livermore, along with the other Tri-Valley cities, was among the first to ban smoking in restaurants and work places. Smoking rates dropped over the years until 2 years ago, when Juul was introduced. “Tonight, this city has the opportunity to be at the cutting edge and show to the state and the rest of the country that we will take a stand for our children’s health and lungs.”
Evan Branning, an Alameda County Health Commissioner, stated that the Commission approved of the ordinance for tobacco retail licenses, as well as the ban on flavored products. “This ordinance that the council is considering is of vital importance. It will give other cities a chance to look at the leadership that you have provided, and will allow this to expand. When Livermore acts, other cities will follow. They are watching.”
Janel Gladen, co-founder of Flavors Hook Kids in Livermore, submitted 541 cards from Livermore residents expressing concerns about the vaping youth epidemic in the community. “We need to protect our children.”
Kristie Wang showed a huge box of flavored tobacco products recovered from students at one high school in Livermore last year. 74% of these products were purchased at a retail location. “For every one adult who stops smoking regular cigarettes by smoking e-cigarettes, there are 80 additional youth who initiate daily tobacco use through e-cigarettes. These products do not belong in Livermore”.
Gen Granahado from the American Cancer Society remarked, “The tobacco industry has the kid’s menu. There are over 15,000 flavors, like sour worm and cotton candy, luring kids into this lifelong addiction to nicotine”. “Tobacco is the only legally sold product that when used as intended, will kill you.”
Roselyn Moya, Co-chair of the Tobacco Control Coalition, noted that one pod of Jule actually equals the nicotine in two packs of cigarettes, since absorption is increased by 50%.
Tracy Andrews reported the fact that nicotine can harm adolescent brain development. In Livermore, 66% of the stores surveyed sell flavored tobacco devices; 98% of the stores sell flavored tobacco and 90% sell flavored cigarettes.
Scott Vernoy, Director of Services for the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District, revealed that in the last two years there has been over a 200% increase in the number of offenses at the high schools with tobacco and vaping products. “This is tobacco 2.0. Big tobacco has made smoking socially acceptable. Reverse this trend before it’s too late. Vote with urgency tonight.”
Councilmember Trish Munro questioned the selling of single use cigarettes, cigarillos, cigars and how that could affect legislation. Alcala replied that those also would fall under the ordinance because of the flavoring.
Vice Mayor Robert Carling asked about transferring a Tobacco Retail License. Alcala noted that the ordinance prohibits transfers.
Councilmember Bob Coomber declared that it is a “necessarily extreme ordinance” that is needed. “I’ve never been a supporter of tobacco in general.”
Munro stated, “Big tobacco is the villain. It doesn’t pay for the damage it wreaks; we all pay for that.” She continued that she understands and feels for people whose businesses will be impacted. “One of the best ways to change behavior is not having the product present.”
Carling estimated the loss of sales tax from the primary tobacco sellers would only be $43,000, which amounted to less than a 10th of 1 % of the city’s budget. City Manager Marc Roberts agreed.
Councilmember Bob Woerner added that this significant problem was getting dramatically worse. “We need to do something about it. We should make the strongest measure possible. I am very concerned about the impact on children. I am in favor of the ordinance as it is.”
Mayor John Marchand commented, “Tobacco kills one-half million people a year. It should not be available to set children on a lifetime of addiction. We are supposed to be protecting our children.”