Petaluma officials ban sale of vaping products, amend tobacco ordinance

Petaluma will raise the cost of tobacco products and ban the sale of flavored tobacco products as part of an effort to curb a growing number of public health concerns surrounding the city’s youth and beyond.

The sweeping tobacco retail license ordinance, which the Petaluma City Council passed unanimously Monday, will take effect July 6, 2022, and includes a requirement for tobacco retailers to obtain annual licenses.

The ordinance is a step health officials and public leaders said was important amid a surge in vaping among teens, although the age minimum for purchasing tobacco products was raised to 21 for the State of California in 2016.

“I think it’s important to do this as soon as we can,“ said council member Dennis Pocekay, as officials debated about whether or not the ordinance should go into effect sooner than July.

The City Council’s move came as a recent study by the National Institutes of Health showed that 37% of high school seniors stated they had used an electronic “vaping” device. Petaluma City Schools conducted a similar survey, which found that more than 53% of senior students reported to have used an electronic smoking device at least once in a span of 30 days.

Many residents and organizations showed support for the new regulation, including the American Heart Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Hearts of Sonoma County, among a number of physicians and educators.

Kathryn Brown, an adolescent specialist and physician at Kaiser Permanente with 25 years experience, said many of her patients are now addicted to nicotine due to the introduction of e-cigarettes at a young age.

“I have definitely seen some teen patients become irritable, drop out of school, and lose a dangerous amount of weight related to their use of nicotine products,” Brown said in a letter posted to the city website prior to the meeting. Hers was one of 24 statements submitted to the City Council ahead of Monday’s meeting. “In addition, e-cigarettes contain known carcinogens as well as other chemicals in them that cause lung damage, which is concerning for the health of teens who start to use these products at a young age.”

Every year the American Lung Association in California publishes a “State of Tobacco Control” report which grades each city and county on its tobacco control laws. Petaluma’s law currently has a grade of “B” but by enacting the new ordinance, city officials said the City’s grade will improve to an “A” for next year’s report.

The amendment, which caps the number of tobacco licenses in the city and institutes setbacks from youth-oriented areas and other tobacco retailers, could make it more difficult for new tobacco retailers to obtain a license if they are not operating as of the ordinance’s adoption date.

Currently 54 retailers in Petaluma sell tobacco products. Those businesses would be required to obtain a license by the July 6, 2022, deadline. Some council members posed the question of whether or not that number should be capped as is.

“Fifty-four is an enormous number of locations for that particular product,” said council member Dave King. “I’m wondering if we can even get milk in 54 locations in Petaluma. Probably not.”

Assistant City Attorney Dylan Brady said that option is certainly possible, adding that the city of Sonoma has capped the number of tobacco retailers.

A $10 minimum price will be set for a package of 20 cigarettes, while $2 will be charged per little cigar. Each regular-sized cigar will be priced for at least $5, including all taxes and fees. Sonoma County set a minimum price for tobacco products in 2018, at $7 per pack of cigarettes and cigars.

The average cigarette pack price statewide is $8.90, according to data compiled by The Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids.

The ordinance comes as a part of a resolution adopted by the City Council on Aug. 2, which mapped out a two-year priority plan for the city.

About 150 California cities and counties have adopted similar tobacco retail license regulations, including in Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Windsor and Sonoma.

Amelia Perreira/Petaluma 360