On Tuesday, the Antioch City Council agreed to suspend enforcement of its no flavored tobacco sales until December 1, 2022.
In a 3-2 vote last month, with Mayor Pro Tem Mike Barbanica and councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker rejecting the policy, the city now prohibits local businesses from selling flavored tobacco products and other items.
The move came even as a statewide referendum under SB 793 will be on the November ballot which tackles the sale of flavored tobacco.
Since the vote, many local businesses called the policy unfair, merchants were stuck with inventory they could not get rid of and others were not even aware of the city implementing such a policy to its Antioch Municipal Code–in tern, they asked to either do away with the policy until the November election or offer a grace period so they could unload product.
The City Council recently passed an ordinance amending section 6-8.02 of the Antioch Municipal Code to add the definitions of characterizing flavor, cigar, and little cigar (including Cigarillo) and amending section 6-8.14 to restrict tobacco retailers or businesses from selling or providing tobacco with characterizing flavor, selling or providing electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, and to regulate the size and price of specified packages of cigarettes, little cigars, and cigars.
Since passing the ordinance, the City Council has heard public comment from tobacco retailers and businesses selling tobacco products expressing the desire for a grace period temporarily suspending the implementation of new restrictions on sales of tobacco or tobacco products with characterizing flavor, electronic cigarettes, cigars, and little cigars to enable businesses to sell their existing inventory and transition into compliance with the new ordinance.
The City Council could institute such a grace period by directing staff to draft an amendment to the ordinance that inserts a grace period prior to the commencement of enforcement activities. The grace period would enable tobacco retailers and businesses to sell their existing inventory and prepare to come into compliance with the new ordinance. During the period prior to the passage of the new ordinance, Council can also direct staff to focus on educating the community about the new ordinance, rather than engaging in immediate enforcement
After several public comments advocated for a suspension of the ordinance in an effort to allow local shops to remain competitive with other local communities while allowing them to sell their products they have in stock, the council took up the item.
Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock stated that when they went forward with their ordinance, they did not hear from any of the businesses they are hearing from now and understands how businesses feel there was not outreach but stated there was public notification.
“I understand the lack of communication and appreciate the communicate the communication we have now had between the businesses and the city council. Its nice when we get to hear from the community and what they have to say,” said Ogorchock. “I can emphasis with you and I can understand the cost was not listed in here nor were the cigarillos and cigars so there was some things left off so for me, I voted for this policy, for me, I am looking for the business to make a real efforts that none of these flavored menthol cigarettes get into the hands of the kids.”
She hoped for an educational piece for businesses and noted she was open to a suspension of the policy.
“For me, I am willing to suspend and have a grace period until December 1 so the voters could go ahead and vote on this,” said Ogorchock. “Then after that, maybe this council can look at this policy and what they state did or did not do, what passed and did not pass and what this council wants to look at in another policy.”
Mayor Pro Tem Mike Barbanica said he was not for this policy and did not support it.
“It harms local business and please continue to police yourself. I am in support of suspending this until at least December 1 to see what the state does,” explained Barbanica. “I think this was an overreach on our part and we need to be consistent with state law and not harm our local businesses.”
Mayor Lamar Thorpe said he has spoken to many local businesses and the intention was not to target nor make peoples lives difficult. He stated when Ogorchock was doing this it was not out to be malicious.
“I think she generally has an interest in making sure our young people are protected in our community,” said Thorpe. “That is how her voting record has reflected. It was an easy one for me. I was clear about the health outcomes. I was over at the Healthcare District and these were things we would talk about all the time with tobacco and the impact of menthol on African American families so I am not taking away the public health component of this because these are real things.”
Thorpe stated he was comfortable with a grace period.
“Irrespective of what the outcome at the election, I am sticking to what I originally did and am not changing my opinion irrespective of what the voters of California do. This issue about consistently, literally we were given the power as five individuals to make laws in our city. We have that discretion and it sometimes isn’t going to look like all of California. Sometimes it is, that is our discretion and we were elected to make decisions on behalf of the people,” explained Thorpe. “I am sticking to the public health component and I don’t mind a grace period. But the outcome of the election is not going to change my opinion about what I feel like we need to do.”
He continued to state that he was sympathetic to the fact many of the businesses has a lot of inventory they need to offload, and it was wrong not to take it into consideration. But noted he didn’t want to change what they did, only offer a grace period. He was also open to tweaking the policy such as cost, packaging and other areas of the policy.
Councilmember Monica Wilson agreed with the grace period but had an issue with going all the way out to December 1. She also advocated for a community education component.
Councilmember Tamisha Torres-Walker said she did not support this policy and was in favor of the grace period to December 1.
“In my opinion, we should have never done this ordinance,” said Torres-Walker. “This is not big Tabaco sitting in the audience, these are small business owners, family-owned business who has already been negatively impacted without notice and an opportunity to reconcile what they might lose even after November. So, I agree to December 1.”
The City Council directed staff to focus on education and not enforcement until the ordinance comes back to make the grace period official.
Note – for local shop owners, the ordinance is still technically in effect which restricts sales of tobacco or tobacco products with characterizing flavor, electric cigarettes, cigars and little cigars, but staff will not be enforcing it officially. Once the council brings the item back for an official vote, the grace period is in effect.