City Council Forestalls Flavored Tobacco Decision

At the City Council meeting of August 26, 2019, Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells offered “I’m going to make some friends, and I’m going to make some enemies, by the next thing I’m about to say,” and moved an item forward on the agenda so the proposed ban on retail sales of flavored tobacco could be heard first. “I’m trying to do the best by the most people.”

The number of speaker cards was estimated at 70, and as a number of speakers were high school students, the mayor offered that students speak first. “It is a school night.”

Rica Blancs, one of several students who spoke as representatives of the Culver City Youth Against Tobacco, offered the statistic that “200 hundred youth in California become addicted to tobacco every day.  With flavors like Cotton Candy and Gummi Bears … our youth should not have to face the health risks that tobacco companies choose to ignore.”

Terry Blevins, who introduced himself as a former law enforcement officer, felt that criminalizing flavored tobacco would “…waste time and resources, impacting our ability to solve and prevent more serious crimes.”

With many speakers advocating against the tobacco legislation, there was basic misalignment of objective; the agenda item was only looking to ban the retail sales of flavored tobacco, not make the use of tobacco products a criminal offense.

Lydia Lising, a part of the youth coalition, spoke to the issue of underage sales, and said that “With 21% of tobacco retailers in Culver City selling to underage youth, that translates to one out of five flavored tobacco sales being underage.”

Many retailers spoke out against the legislation, saying that they were law abiding and would be unfairly punished by the law. While the emphasis from many speakers that legislating against menthol was de facto discrimination against African-Amercians, the unexpected challenge came from hookah bars.

“For business owners who are getting by right now on flavored tobacco sales, I would want a grace period [to allow for transition.] this is complicated stuff, I know these are people’s livelihoods.” Council member Alex Fisch noted.

Mayor Sahli-Wells noted a long chain of legislation in process, from the state level on down. “I think we need more research, and I need more information. Hearing from folks tonight is compelling.” Asking the assistant City Attorney Heather Baker how to proceed, the question was how to “give a second look.”

The council opted not to vote on the proposed legislation, and to move the ordinance onto a future agenda with a possible cultural exemption for hookah bars.

Judith Martin-Straw

The Actors' Gang

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