[California] A new Sonoma County policy addresses both electronic cigarettes and traditional cigarettes. The new policy sets its aim on electronic cigarettes and cites a need to regulate them. While the guide for Sonoma County’s new Tobacco Retailer License policy demonstrates teen e-cigarette usage has tripled, increased vaping among teens coincides with a longer overall trend of declining youth tobacco smoking rates. According to a Chicago Tribune editorial, “Winning the war against teen smoking,” teen smoking has declined by half nationally over five years from 10.7 percent in 2010 to 5.5 percent in 2015 with a rise in vaping among the age group.
As vaping rises, the goal of reducing youth smoking rates is a resounding success. Reducing access of e-cigarette products to minors is a reasonable goal; however, the policy does not explicitly state how it intends to reduce vaping among teens within Sonoma County – aside from establishing electronic cigarettes has a tobacco product, even though the sale of e-cigarettes to minors are already restricted.
One of the biggest ways to reduce traditional tobacco usage among teens might well be under way, California Senate Bill S.BX 27 which raises the minimum age to smoke to 21 received approval by the Senate in a 26-10 vote and awaits the Governor’s signature. To piggyback S.BX 27, the new policy approved new regulations for the sale of tobacco products aimed at making tobacco more difficult for minors to obtain. One of the measures to be implemented will set the price of cigarettes over $7 a pack, making Sonoma the first county in California to set prices on a pack of cigarettes. While the need to lower tobacco usage among youth gets a thumbs up, some parts of the overall policy fall short.
Raising the price of a pack of cigarettes to over $7 does help address use among minors. It’s clear deterring minors is an important strategy in reducing health problems related to smoking. According to the Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids, raising cigarette prices by 10 percent is believed to help lower youth smoking by seven percent. However, there are complications. One major complication is the fact that consumers can just buy cigarettes elsewhere outside the county, which in turn will hurt local business.
Another aspect of the new policy limits new licenses. No new licenses will be granted for retailers located within 1000 feet of a school and bans licenses for any new tobacco retailer whose primary market is to sell tobacco in Sonoma County. Restricting licenses for retailers near schools is a good policy, restricting licenses for new businesses whose primary product is tobacco gives existing retailers a competitive edge over new retailers who may not be selling cigarettes at all. Vape shops fall under this policy as they are considered a tobacco retailer once the policy is in effect.
Sonoma County’s new policy does step in the right direction; however, a few of these measures falling short of a comprehensive health strategy for reducing smoking rates for minors. Potential concerns about the policy lie in how Sonoma County intends to address the sale of vaping products to minors, as well as, concerns over how the retail license scheme addresses businesses – who will be directly affected by the new policies?