San Jose city staff says having a licensing program for tobacco products similar to that for alcohol would be a powerful tool in making sure retailers follow the law when it comes to only selling cigarettes and other tobacco products to people over the age of 18. They say it would be an effective way to reduce underage smoking and all the health costs that go along with it.
Even though it is illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18, critics say there is little if any enforcement at the state level, which is why San Jose is considering adopting its own rules.
Youth decoy Vy Hoang told the San Jose City Council Tuesday that kids have no problem buying cigarettes.
"They have the sticker, yes, but they still sold to me," said Hoang. "I just think it's important that the youth are represented here."
Philip Morris and a couple of other tobacco interests circulated a flyer to their retailers urging them to speak out against what they call unfair regulations. About two dozen people addressed the council, some in favor of the ordinance, but many opposed.
"To the extent that you adopt more burdensome, more onerous, more costly regulations than the FDA, it will hurt San Jose retailers," said Rotten Robbie president Thomas Robinson.
"You can do anything you do, but whatever laws you put in place, the kids that want to smoke cigarettes are going to get them," said Matt Harrison of West Coast Cigars.
The initial funding for the program would come from a $128,190 grant from the Santa Clara Public Health Department. The city did seem to back off of an idea that retailers would have to hide all tobacco products from public view, but in the end voted 9 to 2 in favor of doing something to help curtail underage smoking.
"I think that we would be doing them a disservice to our younger generation if we don't address this issue," said council member Nora Campos.
A tobacco licensing program would require every retail outlet selling such products to apply for a license and pay a fee. That fee would then fund the additional inspectors needed to review applications and do inspections. The amount of the fee being discussed is in the $450 range.
The city report says about 50 communities in the state have adopted strong retail establishment licensing ordinances, including San Francisco. It goes on to state that those with active programs show that youth sales rate dropped on average by 68 percent.
A proposed ordinance comes back to the council next month.