On Tuesday, a Sacramento City Council committee voted to recommend another way to fight youth access to tobacco products. If the city doesn’t get it right, our kids won’t be the only ones hurt.
The proposed ban on flavored tobacco is ill-conceived and ignores science and basic logic. All it would do is push kids to online markets, hurt local businesses and cripple a city already struggling to secure revenue to address homelessness, economic development and public safety.
To start, take a look at the history of government bans. When people want something badly enough, they will find a way to get it. And when the product is banned from legal retailers, buyers go to the black market, or in today’s world, online. In the Amazon era, you cannot simply ban a product and consider it a silver-bullet solution, especially when the product is legal under federal and state law.
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The internet is not equipped to prevent youth access to adult products since you often don’t need an ID to place an online order. The porn industry is flourishing thanks to the internet, and that is an age-restricted product.
Brick-and-mortar stores have developed training and programs to identify when someone is underage. We’ve all seen the ubiquitous yellow and red WeCard signs. No ID, No sale. In a recent study, the California Department of Public Health found convenience stores to have the fewest instances of illegal sales to youth.
In addition, if a Sacramento resident can’t buy flavored tobacco products from their local convenience store, they will simply drive to a nearby city.
The only real effect of the proposed ban is that mom-and-pop shops will lose the legal sale of these products to their adult customers. It doesn’t stop at lost tobacco sales since customers often stop at convenience stores fill up their cars with gas and pick up snacks and drinks. This ban will turn the tried-and-true business model of a convenience store into an inconvenient reality.
Not only will stores lose revenue, so will the city. This ban will take a projected $55 million a year in taxable revenue out of the city, equal to $1.1 million a year in local sales taxes.
The loss of sales at gas stations and convenience stores will add up quickly. As local schools face budget cuts and city officials push for an increased sales tax, it makes absolutely no sense to dramatically cut city tax revenue.
Keeping tobacco products out of kids’ hands is something we can all fight for, and convenience stores are incredible allies in reaching that goal. If we want to make a real change, we need to focus on enforcement and education, as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has already done.
Sacramento residents and small businesses shouldn’t suffer when the federal government has already begun an effective effort to combat this problem.