Brentwood’s ban on new tobacco smoke shops will continue for at least another year.
The City Council has unanimously agreed to the extension after hearing a number of students, health advocates and parents request it, as well as tougher rules regarding tobacco sales.
Isabelle Kirske, senior health educator with the advocacy group Contra Costa Tobacco Prevention Program, told the council that “unless tobacco use rates decline, an estimated 441,000 of all California youth who are alive today (more than 9,240,000) will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases.”
“Our goal is to change that,” she said.
Moreover, Kirske said there are 44 tobacco retailers in this city of 65,000, 37 of which are within a two-block radius of places where young people frequent, such as schools, parks and playgrounds. Of those, she counted 12 “significant retailers” – 10 tobacco smoke shops and two hookah lounges, all within 1,000 feet of areas where youth congregate.
According to a 2021 to 2022 California Healthy Kids survey for Liberty High School District, 25% of 11th-graders report having used a vape product.
The data shows that since March of 2020, Brentwood also has seen the greatest increase – at 33% – in the number of tobacco retailers in Contra Costa County, and has the fewest number of local policies to curb youth access, she said. It also has double the number of recommended retailers for a city its size, according to the Public Health Law Center, which provides model tobacco policy and legal assistance, Kirske noted.
“Our communities can set a limit on the number of all tobacco retailers, not just smoke shops,” Kirske added. “It can also set a minimum price and pack size for tobacco products, so products can’t be sold cheaply in small packs, which we know are more appealing to price-sensitive individuals like our young people.”
Several students — some members of the East County Youth Anti-Tobacco Coalition — also spoke, noting tobacco products are prevalent in Brentwood schools and easy to access.
“As a high-schooler, I cannot walk into any bathroom on my campus without smelling the sickening smell of smoke with the sugary aerosol from the vapes,” said Sanvi Panda, 14. “And the worst part is, it’s not just something that you see other kids doing; you know that anyone can get roped into it. It could be my friends, the people I care about.”
One resident, though, said he would be more supportive of the ordinance if it stopped tobacco sales “at every establishment in this city” equally.
“I’m up here because it has to do with choice,” Danny Dohrmann said. “And I’m talking about those who choose to buy a product or service. … Let’s not be the morality police.”
Dohrmann also said there should be some shared responsibility with schools and parents.
“I’m not advocating smoking,” he added. “This is simply advocating business.”
Vice Mayor Susannah Meyer said she supported the ban.
“The stats that we’re hearing tonight are appalling and, frankly, embarrassing,” Meyer said at Tuesday’s meeting. “ So you put it on us and we need to act on it. Now this responsibility is on our shoulders to make things better. And I strongly believe we need to do that.”
Councilwoman Pa’Tanisha Pierson was also in support.
“I would wholeheartedly think that tonight we need to be able to make some decisions about adding tobacco policies, not just for smoke shops but for all tobacco retailers,” Pierson said.
“One of the things I would actually ask tonight is that we put a tobacco retail license in place,” she added. “The retail license is only $265 per year per location, which is a really insignificant amount. But what it would do is ensure compliance with local laws. And reduce youth access to tobacco.”
Mayor Joel Bryant reiterated his “absolute and total belief in an individual’s personal rights.”
“Having said that, it is our absolute obligation to take a stand against something that is wrong – and more than take a stand,” the mayor said in his support of continuing the ban moratorium.
“And so if we are going to protect one of the most vulnerable demographics, in our community, our children, we’ve got to do something that not only protects them and makes it more difficult for the predators that are preying upon their futures and their health to do get access to them,” he added. “But I would love to see as severe a stand as we can — and measures we can — to those who violated at the state level.”
Councilwoman Jovita Mendoza, who had proposed the moratorium, moved to approve the extension. She said she wanted to take it further soon and consider new rules on tobacco sales and locations at a future meeting.
The tobacco urgency ordinance was adopted in September of 2022 while the city began studying what permanent tobacco sales regulations it wanted to enact. The moratorium was then extended the following month for another year. It was set to expire on Sept. 8 had the council not voted to extend it.
The moratorium will now expire on Sept. 8, 2024, but the council expects to return before then with a proposal for a permanent ordinance regarding tobacco sales regulations.
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