Capitol Alert

Bill to limit tobacco sales in California can’t even get a vote

Cigarette packs are displayed at a convenience store in New York, March 18, 2013.
Cigarette packs are displayed at a convenience store in New York, March 18, 2013. AP

Three weeks after California’s most significant new tobacco regulations in decades took effect, another proposed restriction proved so unpopular with lawmakers that it couldn’t even get a vote during a committee hearing on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1400, from Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, would have limited the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to specified “tobacco stores,” which prohibit customers under the age of 21 and generate more than 60 percent of their annual revenue from tobacco. Wieckowski said the bill would reduce children’s exposure to tobacco, the same argument lawmakers made when they raised the smoking age to 21 this year.

It squeaked out of the Senate earlier this month with a bare-minimum 21 votes. But opponents, including the retailers and distributors associations and more than 200 convenience store owners, showed up in force at the Assembly Business and Professions Committee hearing on Tuesday to make the case that SB 1400 would destroy their livelihoods.

According to a committee analysis, more than 30,000 retailers, including grocery stores and gas stations, would lose the ability to sell tobacco, leaving about 2,200 existing tobacco stores and an estimated 7,000 new locations that might open.

Committee members said they appreciated Wieckowski’s goal, but that the bill went too far in hurting small businesses.

“If smoking is going to be legal in the state of California, then we cannot continue to do all these little cuts,” Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, said.

After a lengthy discussion, committee chair Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, called for a motion to vote on the bill. His colleagues remained silent.

“Seeing and hearing none, the measure fails,” he said. In the audience, the convenience store owners cheered.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff