Pacifica seeks ways to snuff out tobacco sales to kids

Store owners who want to sell tobacco may have to obtain a special license that will impose an annual fee, force them to attend training as well as be subject to random undercover checks on Pacifica tobacco retailers.

The effort is an attempt to stop liquor stores and gas stations from selling cigarettes to minors. According to a survey conducted by the police and students who went undercover to buy cigarettes, minors have a 26 percent chance of buying cigarettes in Pacifica stores without being asked for identification, which is more than twice the state average, program coordinator Becky Sha said. It is estimated that 13 percent of the city’s teenagers smoke.

The license will cost retailers $300 a year, which will pay for education and approximately three random undercover compliance checks a year, Police Chief Jim Saunders said.

The partners — a group of local high school students from Tobacco Youth Prevention Education, San Francisco-based Youth Leadership Institute and the Pacifica Police Department — said this program has proven extremely effective in other cities. Since Berkeley installed a $380 license in 2002, the rate of youth access to tobacco dropped from 38 percent to 19 percent, Sha said.

In Pacifica, retailers are not required to have any license to sell tobacco products. Several cities in San Mateo County, such as Daly City and San Mateo, require retailers to purchase a $35 license that comes with no education or compliance checks.

Amanda Cue, senior director of prevention at Youth Leadership Institute, said she hopes Pacifica can serve as a good example to other cities on the Peninsula.

“Every town should have one of these,” said Barbara Louthan, a senior at Terra Nova High School and an activist with the Tobacco Youth Prevention Education. “I think smoking is disgusting — it’s unattractive, it smells bad, but teenagers think it’s cool. I definitely think that once it passes it will make a big change. It would make them cut down on smoking.”

But one Pacifica liquor store manager, who did not give his name, said he did not understand why the city needs to pass a special license since he already kicks minors out of his store when they come in for cigarettes.

svasilyuk@examiner.com  

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