In an effort to crack down on smoking and the purchase and use of flavored tobacco products by underage youth, Santa Clara City officials unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday that enforces stricter tobacco regulations.
Some of the regulations include banning smoking tobacco in new and existing multi-unit housing and requiring tenants to sign lease agreements outlining the new rules, while a more controversial regulation — making it unlawful for persons under 21 to possess tobacco — seeks to target the growing use of e-cigarette products among youth.
The provision is part of several Bay Area cities’ wider efforts to target the increase in tobacco products that are sold in fruity and candy-like flavors, favored by teens. According to the FDA’s 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, e-cigarette use among teens almost doubled since last year.
“This is a tool for the police department to make sure that these kids understand what is really going to happen to them,” said Councilwoman Debi Davis after residents expressed concern about penalizing children. “I’ve seen our police department — they’re very caring, they’re very passionate. I think this is a tool in an ordinance to support our police department. I really believe they will not go around cuffing 12 and 13 year old kids.”
Carol Baker of the Tobacco-Free Coalition of Santa Clara County commented that her organization as well as the The American Cancer Society “will not support the ordinance as written,” suggesting that the provision be excluded.
“We do not need to detain and punish children,” Baker said. “Not in our city, our county, or our nation.”
Spokesperson Nicole Coxe from Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department said that the measure is not backed by sufficient evidence.
“This isn’t an effective measure to preventing and reducing tobacco use,” Coxe said. “That’s why it was taken out of the state law in 2016. Since then, no city or county has adopted that measure.”
Police Chief Michael Sellers was adamant that the ban’s enforcement would allow police officers to cite and target retail spaces that continue to sell to minors. He added that the provision on youth is “strictly educational.”
For youth that is caught smoking, Sellers recommended issuing a juvenile contact report, where an in-house probation officer would invite the teen and their parent for an educational talk on the effects of tobacco, and have the teen write a one page report on why they shouldn’t be smoking.
For young adults between 18 and 21 years old, the officer would issue an administrative citation of about $100 for a first time offense.
“Me and Chief Sellars have a decent working relationship. After this ordinance goes in, that relationship will change drastically,” said Rev. Jeff Moore II, president of the San Jose-Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP.
He expressed concern that the ordinance would allow police officers to unfairly target some youth.
“His force would go much further in the law,” Sellers said. “Penalizing people who cannot afford to pay is not going to make it go away. We need to penalize those who are selling the products to these youth.”
Several councilmembers recognized the possible negative consequences of criminalizing youth as well, including Councilwoman Kathy Watanabe, who agreed that there should be a way to pass the policy, but also “go back and amend it and emphasize an educational component.”
“The consequences of infraction are pretty slim,” said city attorney Brian Doyle. “I don’t think we can change the ordinance. That’s what the chief wants to have in the ordinance so that he can make contact with the juvenile.
“If it is not unlawful, why would the police be talking to a juvenile?” Doyle added. “It either has to be unlawful or not.”
Mayor Lisa Gillmor acknowledged that the provision of the law could be misused and abused by the police, agreeing to pass the policy with the condition that an administrative department policy also be developed.
That policy would enforce a more educational approach, rather than a criminal consequence on youth.
Additionally, the council agreed to provide a condensed version of the ordinance that will be included on lease agreements for multi-unit residences to help clarify the mandates.
The new set of regulations go into effect in 30 days.
Proposed Ordinance No. 1996 bans smoking in Santa Clara in the following places and are discussed in more detail below:
- Outdoor patios and seating areas where food or drink is consumed;
- Within 30 feet of any operable doorway, window opening or vent of a building where smoking is prohibited;
- Within 30 feet from any unenclosed areas where smoking is prohibited;
- Within 30 feet of “service areas” such as transit spots or ATMs;
- Public parks;
- Outdoor public events, such as farmers’ markets and parades; and
- Inside any multi-unit housing, including private and shared balconies and patios (this would apply to apartments, condominiums and townhomes, or any other building with two or more attached residences).
Source: City of Santa Clara