Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2021  
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  Tobacco Ordinance Enforcement a Casualty of Defund the Police
September 4, 2021

On September 26, 2017, the City Council received a presentation from the Youth Tobacco Advocacy & Policy Project, highlighting the negative health impacts that tobacco products have on youth. The presentation initiated a process to revise the Tobacco Retailer License regulations to address the dangers of flavored tobacco. The City Council subsequently adopted an ordinance amending Richmond Municipal Code Chapter 7.106 by banning the sale of menthol and other flavored tobacco products, establishing a minimum pack size for little cigars and cigars, and imposing location requirements on new tobacco retailers. Those changes went in to effect on April 17, 2019 and were intended to be enforced by the Richmond Police Department.

On July 23, 2019, the City Council amended Richmond Municipal Code Chapter 7.106 –Tobacco Retailer License –to prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes which require but have not been issued a premarket review order from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Recently, I received several complaints about tobacco retailers in Richmond violating the prohibition against flavored tobaccos and electronic cigarettes. One resident wrote:

I hope you were able to put more restrictions on the tobacco shops who weren't obeying the law. This is a huge concern for me and it's sad to see local businesses not being good citizens of this city. I was able to get my daughter to tell me how she was getting these flavored vapes and where. I've attached a picture below of one of the vapes I found in her room. It's a strawberry flavored vape which contains high amounts of nicotine and is highly addictive, I fear  she might be addicted to these atrocious things. She mentioned a store that had recently opened on 3049 Cutting Blvd, Richmond, CA 94804 that sells everything to her and her friends. They apparently sell everything from menthol cigarettes, flavored vape pens, and even glass bongs which I know are banned in the city of Richmond. They have walls of flavored nicotine devices which is mind-boggling to see because last time I checked, we, the city of Richmond, CA banned them. They also advertise their illegal products on social media platforms such as this one:

Whoever is handing out tobacco retail licenses to these shops needs to be thorough on the people they are giving them to because this is right next to the high school my daughter attends. Also, I don't know what the Richmond Police Department is doing but what these shops are doing is ILLEGAL AND UNLAWFUL. Not only are they disobeying the law but are also selling to whoever is willing to buy and that includes my daughter and many other John F. Kennedy high school students.

Another resident pointed out a shop disguised as a gift shop at 2427 Macdonald Avenue selling unlawful tobacco products as well as pipes and bongs for drug use.

I forwarded the complaint to Chief French, and she provided the following report:

After receiving the initial complaint we responded to the business located at 4926 McBryde Ave. (7 Star Gift Shop and Tobacco). Contact was made with the business owner and it was found that the store had opened on August 15th without being fully permitted or signed off on by the Regulatory Unit. Several prohibited products were located in the store for sale. The store owner was advised of these items not being allowed to be sold and was told they needed to be removed from the shelves immediately. The store owner did do so while detectives were on scene. Code Enforcement also responded to assist with the inspection. This store owner also owns and operates another store in the city that sells tobacco products. That store has been in compliance with regards to flavored tobacco products. An inspection of that store was done immediately after this one and was found to be in compliance.

Code Enforcement will be drafting up a Notice Of Violation for the business and owner due to the prohibited products being in the store and the advertisement of those items which is a violation of RMC 20.18 N.S. Chapter 7.106.  

We will continue to follow up and conduct inspections on the other businesses that sell tobacco products. 

Chief French also noted, “Our unit that has historically handled these inspections (Regulatory Unit) will be disbanded in January.  Our staffing has reached a critical low and we no longer have the resources to maintain this unit.  We are exploring options on how the regulatory functions can still be completed possibly by other City staff.”

Curtailment of enforcement of tobacco ordinances intended to protect youth is one consequence of defunding the police, an obsession of the Richmond Progressive Alliance.