Dublin council favors tough curbs on tobacco sales

(January 17, 2012)

Dublin is considering changes that could force most stores to stop selling tobacco within three years. If approved, it would be one of the strictest local tobacco sales laws in the state. Most California cities don't have local zoning rules barring tobacco sales in certain areas.

"I think this would break new ground," said Justin Garrett, policy manager for the American Lung Association in California. "I would consider this a significant action in tobacco regulation."

Saying it wants to protect children from tobacco, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to have its staff develop a zoning ordinance barring tobacco sales within 1,000 feet of homes, schools, parks and day care centers. Mayor Tim Sbranti was absent from the meeting.

Some cities have applied sales bans like this to new business applications but let existing stores continue with sales. But the Dublin council left no doubt it is willing to go further, halting sales at existing stores too close to homes or schools within a phase-in period of one, two or three years.

At least 18, and likely more, of the 24 stores selling tobacco in Dublin would be affected by a tobacco sales ban within 1,000 feet of residential areas, schools, parks and other places where children congregate, said Roger Bradley, Dublin's assistant city manager.

The city will need to study maps to determine exactly how many stores would be allowed to continue sales, he said.

The council also wants to impose new licensing requirements on tobacco sellers.

The 24 retail tobacco sellers in town include grocery and drugstores, minimarts and gas stations.

"We're not talking about banning tobacco in Dublin, but restricting where it is sold," said Dublin Vice Mayor Kevin Hart.

Reducing minors' access to tobacco lowers use and addiction rates, council members said.

Other cities have shied away from banning sales at existing businesses because of political resistance and concern that businesses would claim their sales were damaged or taken away, say experts on tobacco legislation.

Giving businesses up to three years to phase in the ban would allow them to prepare for the restrictions and recoup their investment in tobacco sales, Dublin staff members suggested.

Offering a phase-in period is middle legal ground between the extremes of banning sales immediately or paying compensation to stores, said Ian McLaughlin, senior attorney at the Public Health Law & Policy, a nonprofit that offers information on tobacco and health issues.

"Grandfathering in the old businesses is less risky, but reducing the density of tobacco retailers is a stronger public health policy," McLaughlin said.

Regulators have used phase-in periods with new rules for other industries, including billboards, he said.

No store owners spoke at the council meeting Tuesday. Messages left for the Neighborhood Market Association, a retailers group critical of local tobacco restrictions, were not answered Wednesday.

Dublin council members say they want to adopt the tough rules by November.

Councilwoman Kasie Hildenbrand said she was pleasantly surprised Tuesday that the council favors rules as strict as she wanted. "This is a bold step in protecting the health of our children," she said.

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