SAN DIEGO — Community leaders and elected officials are calling for stronger enforcement when it comes to teens being able to buy flavored tobacco products.
Leaders argue that illegal products are still being sold in the city of San Diego.
“We need to take these products off the street,” said Adrian Kwiatkowski, San Diegans Vs. Big Tobacco Coalition manager.
Leaders are calling for a crackdown on the illegal sale of flavored tobacco products. As of January, state law and San Diego City ordinance ban retail shops from selling flavored tobacco products generally targeted toward kids.
“There are still some outliers who break the law and try to sell it,” said Jennifer Campbell, San Diego City Councilmember.
As part of the city’s enforcement, the city attorney, Mara Elliot, sent investigators into shops, where in some cases the stores sold them flavored products.
“They will try anything to hook our children on tobacco,” said Mara Elliott, the San Diego City Attorney.
San Diego Unified School District has done studies that show that at least one in four students have used an e-cigarette. It’s become so attractive to students that some schools must close their bathrooms because students are turning them into vaping rooms.
“We parents cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretending it’s not happening, it is happening,” Elliott said.
Elliott said punishment depends on the severity. The attorney’s office will send a letter of compliance to a business, then go back to make sure they stopped selling the flavored tobacco.
For larger retailers, with possibly more than one shop, Elliott said they look for a pattern. If a pattern is established, the owner might get hit with a lawsuit under the “unfair competition” laws. This is because Elliott said it is unfair for a business to make money from selling flavored tobacco products when their competition is not.
“So we will hold them accountable through the court and it can be a very expensive lawsuit if they don’t comply,” Elliott said.
Elliott has severed two businesses with lawsuits for selling flavored products and sent about 10 compliance notices to retailers.
San Diegans Vs. Big Tobacco Coalition is partnering with the city to help businesses comply. They suggest raising the price of the city’s required tobacco permit for selling traditional tobacco products.
“The city can generate almost $1.3 million in cost recovery resources to help fund a robust enforcement program,” Kwiatkowski said.
Elliott is asking San Diegans if you see something, say something. If people see a retailer selling flavored tobacco products, Elliott said to take a picture, get the name of the store and clerk who sold the products, then email to Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org.