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Council introduces tobacco license ordinance

SAN MARCOS — San Marcos officials advanced an ordinance that would create a new license for tobacco retailers that would require them to have annual compliance checks with the Sheriff’s Department and ban them from selling drug paraphernalia.

The San Marcos City Council voted 4-0 in favor of introducing the ordinance at the July 12 council meeting. Councilman Chris Orlando was absent.

Nearly a dozen anti-tobacco and youth drug prevention advocates in the gallery applauded the council’s vote, which will require the city’s tobacco and e-cigarette selling establishments to obtain a permit before Jan. 1.

Supporters of the ordinance said it would curb the proliferation of e-cigarette use among minors, which has exploded in recent years.

“Preventing youth from drug use is an important, life-saving work,” said K.C. Strang, co-founder of the San Marcos Prevention Coalition. “This is great public policy, one that supports all of our collective goals as parents.”

San Marcos follows in the footsteps of Vista, El Cajon and other cities statewide that have adopted such license requirements, which provide incentives for business that follow the rules and harsh penalties for scofflaw businesses.

Tobacco businesses already have to get a license from the state to operate, but the $100 fee doesn’t cover the cost of the compliance check, which has prompted cities to adopt supplemental licenses such as the one San Marcos is considering.

According to the staff report, San Marcos’ proposed program mirrors Vista’s, which has been successful in increasing compliance among that city’s tobacco-selling establishments.

City officials said that the compliance checks are what make Vista’s program more successful in curbing sales to minors than other cities. The penalties for failing the inspections — which could temporarily or permanently ban a store from selling such products — have been a major deterrent, as tobacco sales account for nearly one-third of most convenience stores’ revenue.

San Marcos has 60 businesses that sell tobacco and e-Cigarette products. The proposed ordinance would require them to obtain a permit that costs $189.52, which city officials said would cover the costs to administer and perform compliance checks.

In the second year of the program, establishments can get reductions based on a clean compliance check and other anti-tobacco measures, such as a magnetic stripe reader to verify the age of buyers, regular staff training and no tobacco advertising.

All told, stores can cut the cost of the license by $60.

Conversely, violations found in the annual compliance review can result in punishments ranging from warnings to suspension and ultimately revocation of the license.

The first violation with a three-year period results in a warning and a requirement to train employees within 60 days.

The second violation results in an up-to 30-day suspension; a third violation would result in a 90-day suspension; a fourth violation would result in a yearlong suspension, and a fifth suspension could result in revocation.

Violators can appeal the rulings to an independent hearing officer, according to the ordinance.

The City Council heard from several speakers, all of who were in favor of the ordinance, including two Mission Hills High School seniors who are part of a group that advocates for limiting youth access to tobacco and other drugs.

According to the Vista Community Clinic, which was another strong advocate of the ordinance, 21 percent of ninth graders and 34 percent of 12th graders reported smoking an e-cigarette, and five percent of stores in San Marcos illegally sold an electronic smoking device to a youth surveyor.

Victoria Rosales and Leslie Soza, members of the Youth Advisory Council, said that e-Cigarettes and hookah are becoming increasingly popular with their peers, without knowledge of the potential side effects.

“It’s a trend for them, but they don’t know that they are ruining their lives,” Rosales said.