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Anti-Smoking Advocates Say Plan Protects Youths

Anti-Smoking Advocates Say Plan Protects Youths; Pacifica Merchants Balk At Fee

By Alan Fackler, CORRESPONDENT – Article Created: 03/17/2008 02:34:01 AM PDT

PACIFICA — Teenage smoking is a serious problem, and a group of local teens decided to do something about it — much to the consternation of city merchants.

In Pacifica, where retailers in the past were not required to hold local permits to sell tobacco, more than 25 percent of merchants sold tobacco to minors, according to surveys conducted by youth advocates in 2006.

But a new ordinance went into effect March 11 requiring any merchant in Pacifica to pay US$300 annually for a special license to sell tobacco. The new ordinance received major advocacy from teenagers in the Jefferson Union High School District’s Tobacco-Use Prevention Education Program and the Youth Leadership Institute.

Pacifica’s new tobacco ordinance calls for suspending and revoking the licenses of merchants who are caught selling cigarettes to minors. Merchants are also subject to fines.

As of October 2007, 47 other communities throughout California have passed similar ordinances, according to the Center for Tobacco Policy and Organizing.

Becky Sha, a tobacco-prevention coordinator at Terra Nova High School, has been working with students for more than four years to develop and pass the ordinance. “It was a very, very long process, but we believed in what we were doing,” Sha said.

The leadership institute trained various youths to visit stores and attempt to buy tobacco to discover which local merchants weren’t carding youths. The institute did public opinion surveys

that found a high percentage of Pacifica residents supported the prevention of tobacco products to teens, Sha said.
Barbara Louthan, a 17-year-old senior at Terra Nova, is the leader of the local chapter of the district’s tobacco education program. Louthan and other high school students were integral in gathering the information needed to pass the law.

“I got involved with TUPE because I’ve always been against smoking,” Louthan said. “It makes me sad to see kids starting at such a young age.”

Sha said the $300 fee will be collected and used to find and punish merchants who are selling cigarettes to minors.

“This license fee will give money to the police to do random checks three or four times a year,” Sha said. “The police will train kids to do purchase surveys, and have them go in and attempt to purchase cigarettes.”

The presentation was officially brought before the City Council in February, where it was met with an overwhelming amount of support, Sha said.

“These merchants need to be educated and shown what could happen if they sell cigarettes to teens,” Sha said. “You need a license to sell a mattress, how do they not need a license to sell cigarettes?”

The Center for Tobacco Policy and Organizing claims similar ordinances have produced positive results.

In Banning, a city in Riverside County, the youth-sales rate plummeted from 71 percent to 21 percent after a $350 special license fee was passed in August 2006. In Riverside, the sales rate dropped from 65 percent to nearly zero after a $350 ordinance was passed in 2006, according to the center.

But local Pacifica merchants aren’t thrilled with the new law.

“Why is any of this the merchant’s responsibility?” said Stephanie Lang, the owner of a local 7-Eleven. “Last time I checked, this is a free country, and kids know the law, too. Why should the business owners be liable for their actions? That’s just not fair.”

I’m not surprised at all that they’re doing this,” said Julia Pak, co-owner of Pacific Market, a local liquor store. “There’s only a handful of people in this city that sell cigarettes, and I just don’t see how making us pay $300 is going to make a difference. This city is the joke of California.”

Pak said the city was eager to pass the bill “to get Pacifica out of financial trouble” and not out of concern for teens.

“If kids want to smoke, they’ll find a way to smoke. It’s the parents’ responsibility, not ours,” Pak said.

“We’ve received the Responsible Alcohol Merchant Award for two years now,” Pak said. “We shouldn’t have to pay anything.

“They already use undercovers for alcohol,” Pak said. “Now what? Are they going to do the same for tobacco?”

The answer would appear to be yes.

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