Businesses may soon have to deal with a new fee if they want to sell tobacco products.
During a meeting this week, members of the Livingston City Council shared various opinions on a possible ordinance that would impose a small, annual fee on tobacco-selling shops, which some say could total about $100. The city estimates it would raise more than $1,000 a year if the fee was approved.
The proposal will be brought back as an action item on a future agenda.
The pitch came from the California Health Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that recently got some state funding to educate minors about the effects of smoking and encourage cities to ensure retailers aren’t selling tobacco to children.
In February, the organization conducted a “youth purchase survey” and representatives claimed that out of 15 stores in Livingston, two attempted to sell tobacco to minors.
If Livingston approved an ordinance imposing an additional fee on businesses selling tobacco products, the city would decide how to use the revenue. It would mainly go toward enforcement and possibly education.
Council members had mixed feelings about the proposed ordinance Tuesday.
Mayor Pro Tem Margarita Aguilar and Councilwoman Theresa Land both expressed interest in the idea and what the funds could do to combat tobacco use among juveniles.
Aguilar said when kids smoke, it opens to door for illicit drug use and future problems. Land agreed, saying she’s “in total support of it.”
“I think it’s a great idea, and I think that we should do it possibly with alcohol as well,” Land said, adding that youths getting a hold of tobacco or alcohol could lead them down the wrong path in life.
Councilman Gurpal Samra offered another perspective, noting that while he’s against tobacco use in general, he doesn’t think the ordinance is necessary since there are already laws in place aimed at preventing the very problem the California Health Collaborative is trying to resolve.
“It’s not just about tax,” he said. “Businesses understand that there is a cost to doing business. To me, it becomes a question of how many laws to you need for the same thing?”
Samra added that while the police department will address instances of tobacco sales to minors if they come up, there are more pressing issues for the department to focus on.
Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez said that in the four months he’s been with the department, he hasn’t encountered any instances of stores selling tobacco to minors.
The only situation he’s dealt with is when he came across a teenager smoking cigarettes, which were supplied by her mother.
“It was kind of frustrating to me,” he said, adding that there also needs to be a focus on educating parents about the effects of exposing their kids to tobacco.
But with limited staffing levels, dedicating time to monitor stores to make sure they’re not selling tobacco to minors takes a back seat to other more serious offenses, such as property crimes and violent transgressions.
“Obviously, if the council supports the idea and wants to go forward, we’ll support that,” Chavez said.
Several businesses that sell tobacco in Livingston were reached by the Sun-Star on Thursday, but either declined to comment or directed inquiries to corporate representatives who didn’t return calls to the Sun-Star by Thursday evening.
A media representative of Phillip Morris USA, the country’s largest tobacco company, said he’ll review the ordinance once it’s published, but didn’t want to speculate on it.
Though it’s unknown when the possible ordinance will be revisited by the Livingston City Council, the California Health Collaborative plans to present the idea to other city councils throughout Merced County soon.