Subscribe

Sonoma outlines restrictions sought for tobacco ordinance

ELOÍSA RUANO GONZÁLEZ , THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma is closer to tightening its regulations on tobacco-product retailers. City Council members outlined Monday night restrictions they want included in an ordinance, including a ban on new businesses selling cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products within city limits.

The move is aimed at curtailing the sale of tobacco to minors. The ordinance, expected to come back to the council for an official vote in March, will require the existing tobacco retailers to obtain a license with the city, paying $246 a year. The money would go toward a youth-decoy sting program, coordinated by sheriff’s deputies and Police Chief Bret Sackett. However, the city will not issue licenses to any new venues.

“I wouldn’t want any new businesses to sell tobacco. We (already) have 16,” Mayor David Cook said during Monday’s meeting.

“Because of the size of Sonoma,” he added, “I would like to see no new ones.”

Councilwoman Laurie Gallian echoed those feelings.

“Zero would look mighty nice,” she said.

Council members initially looked at the possibility of prohibiting a business from transferring a tobacco license in the event a business location sold. Ultimately, they agreed to allow businesses to pass on their license to a succeeding shop, as long as the location remains the same.

Cook long opposed prohibiting the transfer, saying it would hurt existing businesses when it came time to sell.

“That’s an asset for the business, like it or not,” Cook said prior to the meeting on Monday.

“I want to make sure we’re targeting what we’re supposed to be targeting. That means youth,” he added.

The proposed ordinance first came before the council in October. However, the discussion didn’t get far. Cook argued the council needed more time to comb through the proposed ordinance and pushed to table discussions until new council members were elected.

Gary Edwards, Madolyn Agrimonti and Rachel Hundley were sworn in as the new council members in December.

On Monday, Hundley called for the city to look at prohibiting tobacco sales to those under the age of 21, an idea that other council members wanted to explore further before deciding whether to add to the ordinance. Hundley argued there are many 18-year-olds in high school who have legal access to tobacco.

“Getting it out of the high-school range is beneficial,” she said.

Healdsburg passed a similar regulation back in October. It became the first city in California to prohibit the sale of tobacco to those under 21, hailing it as a move to cut down on youth smoking.

Sonoma officials also will look into possibly banning some flavored cigars, which they say can attract kids to smoking.

Under the current proposal, the city ordinance would have more teeth when it comes to going after shops that violate laws and sell tobacco to minors. The city would have the power to suspend or take away a license if it found a business was selling products, such as cigars, e-cigarettes and tobacco paraphernalia, to kids or violating other laws. City officials called the move a “first step” to reduce tobacco sales to minors.

The City Council will consider later this month whether to ban smoking in public places and apartment complexes, Cook said.

With the city only two square miles, Cook voiced hope Sonoma County also would tighten its regulations on tobacco retailers.

“Hopefully the county will follow suit and we’ll be back on the same playing field,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@press​democrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.