Hollister City Council members Monday took the first step toward a possible ban or regulations on sales of flavored tobacco.
Council members heard from the public and provided direction to City Manager Bill Avera, who will organize a committee to formulate a proposed ordinance. He said he would include members of a local youth committee and others on the panel, which would make a recommendation to the council at a future date.
At stake is placing a ban or restrictions on flavored tobacco sales due to the increased use of the products among youths.
Avera explained how the San Benito County Public Health Department and local youths had requested the discussion. It comes in light of consideration at the state level for a similar ban, while about 30 communities in California currently maintain a ban or restrictions.
Avera told council members if they chose restrictions over a ban, an example in other areas is disallowing sales within a certain distance from schools. He also said an ordinance banning flavored tobacco products is subject to a referendum, like in San Francisco where voters approved one in June.
Locally, residents spoke out on the topic at Monday’s meeting. Ariana Fabian was among a contingent of younger residents in support of a ban and said she has witnessed fellow teens go through a vape pod, which contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, in a day or two. She said one of seven youths in the community use tobacco, which is a higher rather than the state.
“What is more important than protecting us, the youth of this community?” she said.
The county’s Public Health Officer Dr. Gail Newell, who represents San Benito County Public Health, said she hopes to speak before the council more often and reiterated her view on the ban.
“It’s very important to ban flavored tobaccos for youth access,” Newell said.
Jennfer Sanchez, a mother of teen children, said a flavored tobacco ban would do more harm than good. She said it would likely cause a spike in traditional smoking.
“Vapers are mostly adults who have the right to vape,” she said.
Sergio Amezquita, owner of Greenrush Smoke Shop on San Benito Street, said he has never been accused of selling to minors at his store. He said 50 percent of his business is from vaping products.
“If you guys do that, the ban, I most likely will go out of business or it would jeopardize my business,” he said.
Council members had varying views on a ban or restrictions.
“I’m very passionate about this,” said Councilwoman Honor Spencer, who works at San Benito High School. “I am really sorry, but I’m for an all-out ban on flavored tobacco.”
Councilman Marty Richman said he would support a ban at most stores, but not the three smoke shops that currently operate here. He said restricting sales to smoke shops would allow more control at the door.
“I would like to make sure that we cut down on the places where the product can leak to underage people. I think the best way to do that is to restrict it to smoke shops,” he said.
Councilman Rolan Resendiz asked about annual sting operations to enforce illegal sales to youths at local stores. The city is looking at conducting another one soon, and Police Chief David Westrick said the police department issues two or three citations per week for underage possession of tobacco products.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said he wants to place more restrictions on businesses currently selling them.
“This is something we need to take serious and getting moving on before it gets beyond out of control,” he said.
Councilwoman Carol Lenoir had a similar outlook, saying she wants more restrictions.
“I don’t know if I can go a complete ban but we can step on it pretty hard,” she said.