Retailers That Sell Tobacco to Kids Face Stiffer Penalties

San Mateo County stiffens penalties for tobacco retailers that sell to kids

in Community/Crime

In the past, a retailer in unincorporated San Mateo County may receive a warning if caught selling tobacco to minors. That’s no longer the case.

Last week, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to increase penalties on businesses that sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to minors in unincorporated areas. The “biggest hammer” in the updated ordinance, according to County officials, is that it now requires a permit to be suspended if a business is found to have sold tobacco products to persons under the age of 21.

The new ordinance also increases fines up to $500 for the first violation, and up to $1,000 for all subsequent violations within a 60-month period; prohibits issuing permits to any location within 1,000 feet of a youth-populated area, such as a school or playground; mandates a fine for any ordinance violation; and increases the number of required on-site inspections to two per year.

The added inspections increase the annual permit fee retailers must pay from $174 to $672.

The ordinance changes aims to prevent youth from getting hooked on nicotine, according to County officials. From April 2021 to June 2022, 11 of 74 tobacco retailers in San Mateo County sold to underage youth decoys during Sheriff Office enforcement operations, about 15 percent.

County staff is encouraging cities within the County to adopt the ordinance, as well.

“When we discuss these issues, what we are really talking about is saving lives,” said Warren Slocum, who represents District 4 on the Board of Supervisors. “We need to put teeth into enforcement for two big reasons: one is that we need to make the penalty large enough to negate the profit in selling to minors. And two, we need to do everything we can to keep cigarettes and other tobacco products out of the hands of kids. Most adult smokers began when they were not old enough to legally buy tobacco products.”

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