Council Considers Tobacco Ordinance


Last December, City Council directed city staff to draft an ordinance that would require tobacco retailers to obtain a city tobacco retailer license and prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products inside city limits. Staff conducted two stakeholder meetings with those retailers to discuss this ordinance and hear their concerns. A total of 31 stakeholders attended those meetings. City staff also conducted an informal survey of the community.

The survey showed that 59 percent of respondents support banning the sale of flavored tobaco with 36 percent opposing the ban and 6 percent indicating they were not sure. Support was highest for banning flavored electronic smoking devices and tobacco products like e-cigarettes. 

At its Wednesday, Nov. 7, meeting the City Council introduced the ordinance. In her report to Council, City Attorney Janet Kern points out that, within the City of Alameda, state-licensed tobacco retailers sell all types of tobacco products including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, little cigars (cigarillos), pipe tobacco, smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes, vape pens, e-liquids, hookahs, vape tanks, vape atomizers, vaporizers and e-hookahs. 

The ordinance would prohibit pharmacies that currently sell tobacco products from continuing to do so after July 1, 2019. In addition the ordinance would outlaw sales of tobacco products from any stores located within 300 feet of a public or private K-12 school.

This ordinance would also proscribe the sale of all flavored-tobacco products within the city, including menthol cigarettes. The staff report reminds City Councilmembers that research shows that 81 percent of youth tobacco users ages 12 to 17 began their smoking habits with a flavored-tobacco product.

In her report, Kern points to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Surgeon General reports that “have stated that flavored tobacco products are considered to be starter products that help establish smoking habits that can lead to long-term addiction. Menthol’s cooling properties may reduce the irritation and harshness of smoking, making menthol cigarettes especially popular among young smokers.” 

The report reminds the Council that “today, 84.6 percent of African- American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, and youth who smoke are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than older smokers.” 

The ordinance will prohibit tobacco retailers from selling little cigars or cigarillos unless sold in a package of at least five. In addition, tobacco retailers may not sell any cigars unless sold in a package of at least five, unless the retail price of an individual cigar is at least five dollars. Retailers would also be prohibited from selling a pack of 20 cigarettes for less than $7. 

The ordinance would also reduce, over time, the number tobacco retailers in the city. According to Kern’s report city staff does not know the precise number of these retailers in the city because the state will not provide that information. Staff estimates there are approximately 50 such retailers. 

The ordinance stipulates that the total number of tobacco retailer licenses in the city shall be limited to one for each 2,500 inhabitants. This translates to 32 licenses. This means that any person not currently holding a state license to sell tobacco products would be eligible to obtain a city license only if the number of tobacco retailers is fewer than 32. 

A grant from the state of California will cover the costs of the ordinance for the first fiscal year. The city projects that licensing fees would pay the cost to implement and administer the ordinance after the second year.