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Tuolumne County Supervisors Endorse (3-1) Creating Local Tobacco License

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Sonora, CA — Businesses that sell tobacco products may soon have to start paying a fee that will fund enforcement of laws such as the state ban on flavored vape products.

California bans flavored tobacco products in an effort to curb youth use, however, it was noted at today’s Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors meeting that there is no state funding provided for regional enforcement efforts. Local law enforcement agencies, like the sheriff’s office, are already stretched thin responding to other incidents.

The Tuolumne County Public Health Department delivered a presentation stressing that youth vaping numbers are much higher locally than the state average. A 2021 California Healthy Kids Survey found that 21% of Tuolumne County’s 11th graders reported using vaping products, while the state average is 11%.

The Supervisors gave direction, 3-1, to have staff develop a tobacco retail licensing ordinance. It would impact the 44 sellers of tobacco products in the unincorporated parts of the county.

Some municipalities in California have an annual fee in the $30-40 range, others over $100, and some as high as $1,000 (Alameda County). The supervisors stressed they would like to see the fee as minimal as possible to cover the costs of enforcement. The existing state tobacco licensing fee, paid by all California sellers, is around $270.

Supervisor Ryan Campbell said the nation spent 25-30 years successfully convincing children not to smoke cigarettes, and unfortunately, it is now being replaced by vaping, which is harder to police. He added, “Anything we can do to kick the needle in the right direction, we should do,” within reason.

Supervisor Kathleen Haff said, “As someone who comes from an era where we used to see doctors on TV smoking, and recommending smoking, I have to say ‘We have come a long way, baby.’ And, I support this.”

Supervisor Anaiah Kirk expressed disappointment that the state is not properly funding the enforcement of existing laws, and supported the local effort. However, he countered that cannabis is the bigger issue of concern, among youth, as opposed to tobacco.

Supervisor Jaron Brandon was the lone supervisor opposed. He doesn’t feel this ordinance should be the highest priority right now, for the Public Health Department, and is skeptical that most of the flavored vape products kids are using come from local establishments (can also be purchased online). He noted that if a business is caught breaking the rules, there are already fines in place, and mechanisms for punishing them. Brandon said, “I am not sure that we need to have an additional layer of what the state should already be doing.  I personally don’t think this is the priority right now.”

Supervisor David Goldemberg was absent.

County officials will move forward now with developing a local licensing program with the details to be approved by the board of supervisors at a later date. The concept is also supported by the local Blue Zones group.