Santa Clara County Raises Penalties for Tobacco Sales to Minors

Santa Clara County Raises Penalties for Tobacco Sales to Minors
Santa Clara County strengthens penalties for businesses selling tobacco to minors or illegal tobacco products.

Santa Clara County in the United States is significantly increasing penalties for businesses that sell tobacco products to minors or retail illegal tobacco products, as part of a strategy to protect public health and prevent young people from becoming addicted to nicotine.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors supported the county's tobacco retail permit plan, which prohibits retailers from selling any tobacco products to individuals under 21 years old. The plan also prohibits retailers from selling any electronic cigarettes or flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and e-liquids, to anyone regardless of age.

The strengthened enforcement of this plan includes significantly increasing fines - from 10 times to 25 times - as well as permanently revoking the business license of offenders.

The updated ordinance will go into effect for non-incorporated Santa Clara County tobacco retailers on October 13. These changes must be approved by the three partner cities of the county's tobacco retail licensing program - Cupertino, Los Gatos, and Palo Alto - before they can take effect there.

There are 54 licensed tobacco retailers in Cupertino, Los Gatos, and Palo Alto, and 13 in unincorporated Santa Clara County. According to the county, most tobacco retailers in the area are compliant with the law. The updated ordinance is expected to improve compliance and reduce repeat offenses.

The county mayor, Joe Simitian, who proposed these changes, stated that he hopes the fines will "act as a real deterrent and help maintain people's compliance with the law.

Simitian, who serves as the chairman of the Health and Hospital Committee in the county, stated, "Enterprises often view lower-level fines as part of doing business and continue to violate the law. My hope and expectation is that stricter enforcement and heavier fines will change this. If we take action more quickly and revoke the sales licenses of repeat offenders, 'problematic suppliers' will receive this message.

The revised law imposes penalties on those who violate the restrictions set by transnational radical parties, which allow retail sellers to sell tobacco products to individuals below 21 years of age or to sell prohibited tobacco products.

Penalties for businesses that violate the tobacco retail license program.

The regulation also increases the penalties for businesses that sell tobacco products without a valid retail license.

Penalties for Businesses Engaged in Unlicensed Tobacco Products Sales

This county is not the only one implementing stricter penalties for illegal tobacco sales. For example, the city of San Jose has established fines of up to $2,500.

Otto Lee, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for Health and the Hospital Committee, stated, "Santa Clara County is a national leader in protecting residents from the harmful effects of smoking. We continuously evaluate new research and data to develop the strongest and most effective policies to control the sale of tobacco products.

The county manages projects in non-incorporated areas and partner cities. The County Environmental Health Department conducts annual routine inspections on businesses while issuing permits. The Sheriff's Office and local law enforcement agencies in partner cities also conduct undercover inspections on retailers who use youth bait.

In September and December of 2021, the Sheriff's Office conducted enforcement actions against 20 tobacco retailers and issued warnings to six retailers for illegally selling tobacco products to citizens under the age of 21.

A tobacco survey conducted among Santa Clara County high school students in the 2019-2020 school year found that one in twelve students reported current tobacco use, primarily via e-cigarettes. The majority (93.1%) of current tobacco users in the study reported using flavored tobacco products. Over half of teens surveyed reported buying their own e-cigarette products, with nearly a quarter of that group stating they directly purchase them from stores.

The usage of tobacco products by minors has a particularly severe impact on low-income communities and people of color. According to a study conducted in 2019-20, over 31% of Hispanic high school students reported having used tobacco products, the highest among all racial and ethnic groups. One way to improve public health among marginalized communities is to prevent the illegal sale of tobacco products.

Nicole Coxe, project manager of the Smoke-Free Communities initiative at the Department of Public Health, explained that due to targeted marketing by the tobacco industry, measures taken today to protect people from the harms of tobacco disproportionately affect low-income communities, LGBTQ individuals, and people of Latin American and African descent. The harms of smoking can lead to lifelong addiction in teenagers, and these steps are aimed at preventing young people from starting to smoke.

Under the updated legislation, the Ministry of Environment and Health is now authorized to inspect all areas of the tobacco retail industry to ensure that electronic cigarettes and other prohibited products are not being stored out of sight. If illegal products are discovered during inspections, inspectors now have the power to seize or confiscate them.

The departments of public health and environmental hygiene will continue to educate business owners on the requirements of the TRP plan to promote compliance.

Rochelle Gaddi, the interim director of the Department of Environmental Health, stated that the county will be contacting business owners to ensure that they are aware of prohibited products and to increase penalties for any violations. She emphasized the importance of collaborative efforts to protect the health of the entire community, especially young people.

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