Sonoma County has approved new regulations for the sale of tobacco products aimed at making tobacco more difficult for minors to obtain.
One of the measures of the implementation of new rules is that cigarettes will cost over $7 a pack, making Sonoma the first county in California to set prices on a pack of cigarettes. While the need to lower tobacco usage among youth gets a thumbs up, some parts of the overall policy fall short.
Raising the price of a pack of cigarettes to over $7 does help address use among minors.
An editorial by the Press Democrat titled “Thumbs up: Cigarettes at seven dollars a pack?” cites over 90 percent of people who smoke started before the age of 18 and almost 99 percent started before the age of 26.
It’scleardeterring minors is an important strategy for reducing health problems related to smoking. According to the Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids, raising prices for cigarettes by 10 percent lowers youth smoking by seven percent.
However, there arecomplications, chief among them is consumers can just buy cigarettes elsewhere outside the county, which hurts business.
Another part of the new policy is no new licenses will be granted for retailers within 1000 feet of a school and bans licenses for any new tobacco retailer whose primary market is to sell tobacco in Sonoma County.
Although restricting licenses for retailers near schools is a good policy, restricting licenses for new businesses whose primary product is tobacco gives existing retailers a competitive edge over new retailers who may not be selling cigarettes at all. Businesses such as vape shops would be considered a tobacco retailer once the policy is in effect.
The new policy addresses electronic cigarettes and cites the need to regulate them. While the guide for Sonoma County’s new Tobacco Retailer License policy demonstrates teen usage of e-cigs has tripled, increased vaping among teens coincides with a longer overall trend of declining youth tobacco smoking rates.
According to a Chicago Tribune editorial titled, “Winning the war against teen smoking,” teen smoking has declined by half nationally in five years from 10.7 percent in 2010 to 5.5 percent in 2015 with a rise in vaping among the age group.
Even though vaping is up, the goal of reducing youth smoking rates is a resounding success. Reducing access of e-cigarette products to minors is a reasonable goal, however the policy doesn’texplicitly state how it intends to reduce vaping among teens in Sonoma County aside from establishing them as a tobacco product, even though the sale of e-cigarettes to minors are already restricted.
One of the biggest ways to reduce tobacco usage among youth might well be under way, California Senate Bill S.BX 27 which raises the minimum age to smoke to 21 recieved approval by the Senate in a 26-10 vote and awaits the Governor’s signature.
If California decides to raise the smoking age to 21 then that would have an overall positive effect on lowering teenage rates of smoking without having to implement measures within Sonoma County.
Sonoma County’s new policy does step in the right direction, with some measures falling short of a comprehensive health strategy for reducing smoking rates for minors.
Increasing the price of a pack of cigarettes to seven dollars and limiting licenses to retailers near 1000 feet of a school will help to lower youth smoking in Sonoma County.
Potential concerns about the policy lie in how Sonoma County intends to address the sale of vaping products to minors as well as concerns over how the retail license scheme addresses business, who will be directly affected by the new policies.