City Council Tentatively Adopts Plan to Engage in Local Tobacco Sales 'Stings'
• Many Stores in Malibu Reportedly Sell Products to Minors
BY BILL KOENEKER
The Malibu City Council this week unanimously agreed to adopt an ordinance that requires local tobacco retailer registration in an attempt to reduce the illegal sale of tobacco products to minors.
Back in July, the council decided to go forward after it received some shocking news when it learned that a survey found that 37.5 percent of the tobacco retail stores in Malibu have illegally sold tobacco products to minors. That is nearly five times the statewide rate of 7.7 percent, according to authorities.
One Malibu parent praised the council's actions saying it was important to hold local retailers accountable, though he said he had naively hoped, at one time, an ordinance was not needed.
Councilmember Laura Rosenthal, who had shepherded the effort through City Hall, said she was satisfied that the city could use the current Calabasas measure as a model for Malibu's ordinance but, unlike Calabasas and other cities, would not have to charge a fee for the retailer registration.
Other council members praised Rosenthal for her leadership in the matter.
Last summer when the issue was laid down on the council table the surprising use purchase study referred to by several parents, which was conducted by the Alliance to Keep Kids Tobacco Free, was cited by Malibu residents Walter Zelman, chair of the Department of Public Health at California State University and pediatric pulmonologist Georgia Goldfarb.
"So while it is illegal to sell to minors, clearly many stores in Malibu are doing just that," wrote the pair in a letter to city officials.
Parents, students and experts had paraded before the council to reveal the easy access for minors to obtain tobacco in retail outlets in the coastal city and the health consequences.
At that time, Rosenthal said, as "a youth smoker," she wanted to tackle the issue and was disturbed how easily tobacco is being sold to Malibu youngsters.
Of the dozen speakers who testified before the city council in July, the consistent theme or message of both adults and youth was urging the council to "put up roadblocks" to stop sales to minors to help stop underage smoking.
Rosenthal said there are 16 outlets—mostly gas stations, grocery stores and liquor stores—that sell tobacco products. Of those 16, there were six, which sold to underage youth.
Rosenthal said she wanted to model an ordinance like the one currently in place in Calabasas.
In 2009, Calabasas adopted a tobacco retailer licensing ordinance that has been described as an effective way to enforce state laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco to minors.
The law requires all retailers to register with the city if they intend to sell tobacco products.
The city conducts compliance checks and, if a retailer is found to be out of compliance, the registration could be revoked and the retailer would be required to wait a minimum of three months before filing a new registration application. Multiple violations will result in longer waiting periods.
City Manager Jim Thorsen said the compliance checks, or "stings," could be handled by sheriff's department personnel.
There was a brief discussion about using code enforcement from the planning department or whether to charge fines. Both were nixed.
Rosenthal offered a motion that would result in an ordinance requiring two or three compliance checks per year with the resulting consequences patterned after the Calabasas law.
The staff had indicated due to the limited number of retail outlets in Malibu and the potential difficulty in obtaining registration, they were suggesting not imposing a registration fee.
State law, according to city officials, also requires that any person selling tobacco products must also be over 18 years old.
With the city adopting a tobacco ordinance, Rosenthal also wanted the law to include a stipulation that would have both the business owner and the employee who sells to a minor be cited, if the employee making the sale is underage.