Lemon Grove cracks down on tobacco sales to minors

LEMON GROVE, Calif. -- City leaders in Lemon Grove are cracking down on underage tobacco use.

They shared their plan at a community meeting Monday at First Baptist Church of Lemon Grove.

In 2017, volunteers with Community Action Service Advocacy conducted surveys at 26 stores in Lemon Grove that sell tobacco. Youth "decoys" entered the stores and tried to purchase tobacco products without a valid ID. The survey found that 31 percent of stores made illegal sales.

"It's pretty astonishing," said CASA Executive Director Dana Stevens. "The state average is 10 percent. So I think it's safe to say that we have an above average rate of sale here in Lemon Grove, enough to really say that this is a problem."

Lemon Grove city council members are addressing the problem by drafting a Tobacco Retail Licensing Program. If approved, the plan would require retailers that sell tobacco products to apply for and purchase a city tobacco retailer license in addition to their state license. The city license comes with an annual $250 fee. The money would be spent on enforcement, including additional patrols by the San Diego County Sheriff's Office and annual compliance checks.

"Having a tobacco retail licensing program is really a priority in keeping the youth of Lemon Grove safe, protecting them from a life of addiction and keeping tobacco out of their hands when they should not be able to legally obtain it," said Miranda Evans, a management analyst with the City of Lemon Grove.

Evans said tobacco retailers in Lemon Grove have been notified of their proposed ordinance. City councilmembers are asking for community input before they put it to a vote later this year.

If passed, Lemon Grove would join five other cities in San Diego County with a city tobacco retailer licensing ordinance.