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Hoping to stem rampant cigarette sales to underage smokers in Riverside County, Calif., health officials are proposing that merchants throughout the county pay $350 annually for a license to sell tobacco, according to The Press-Enterprise.
The proposed ordinance would raise $875,000 annually to fund a 10-person bureau within the Department of Public Health that would issue licenses, enforce laws governing tobacco sales and conduct sting operations at the county's 2,500 convenience stores, gas stations, markets, smoke shops and other tobacco retailers, county officials said.
The measure is modeled after similar laws in more than 40 other California counties or cities, said Robert Peterson, senior health educator with Riverside County's Tobacco Control Project. The supervisors will consider setting a Sept. 13 public hearing on the proposal.
"I have to license my dog. I have to license my car. It makes good sense in a orderly society that we regulate an addictive product that kills 440,000 people every year" nationally, Peterson said.
Mohamed Elbiali, owner of G&M Tobacco in Perris, disagrees, saying tobacco retailers are well regulated by the state and that most are careful not to sell to minors. "It's too much. We can't afford it," he said of the proposed license fee. "It's not necessary."
Under the proposed measure, merchants found to have repeatedly violated state or federal tobacco laws could face thousands of dollars in fines, suspension or revocation of their county license.
The measure governs sales of cigarettes, cigars, snuff and pipe or chewing tobacco. Merchants selling tobacco or related products, such as pipes or rolling papers, without a license could have their merchandise seized and destroyed.
"The thinking is if you have a license, you are not going to want to jeopardize that license if you sell to minors," Peterson said, adding that the typical chain-convenience store sells as much as $25,000 in tobacco products monthly.
Over the past five years, tobacco sales to minors in Riverside County have tripled, according to the state Department of Health Services.