The Coast News Group
Marijuana and tobacco products are displayed at Elevate Smoke Shop in Vista. Photo by Laura Place
Marijuana and tobacco products are displayed at Elevate Smoke Shop in Vista. Photo by Laura Place
CitiesNewsVistaVista Featured

Vista increases fines, other penalties for tobacco sales to minors

VISTA — New regulations adopted by the Vista City Council have quintupled the fines for retailers selling tobacco products to minors and implemented more serious licensing penalties if offenses continue.

Previously, selling tobacco products to a minor would result in a $200 fine for the clerk making the sale and a warning to the retailer, followed by license suspension for 30, 60 and then 90 days for each subsequent offense in three years and license revocation on the fifth offense.

Under new rules unanimously approved by the Vista City Council on March 14, retailers themselves will face a $1,000 penalty for a first offense rather than the clerk. Second and third offenses in three years will result in 90-day and one-year license suspensions, respectively, with license revocation after a fourth offense.

The tighter regulations go into effect in mid-April and came about after public outcry about rising youth tobacco access at a meeting in late February. Community members said increased penalties are long overdue and praised the city for cracking down.

“I want to thank you all for acknowledging the problem with tobacco in our community. I’m really against tobacco because I see it every day at my school,” said Miguel Castillo, a Vista High School’s STAY Club member. “I want this problem to be fixed in order for our future generations not to be exposed to these substances.”

City Attorney Walter Chung said the city opted not to have additional fines, license suspension, and revocation penalties since $1,000 is the state’s maximum penalty for tobacco retailers.

“We want to make sure this is bulletproof so they won’t have any ability to appeal it,” Chung said.

The council also approved regulations prohibiting licensed tobacco retailers within 1,000 feet of other tobacco or cannabis retailers, in addition to existing code prohibiting them from within 1,000 feet of schools.

City Clerk Kathy Valdez said this applies to tobacco-specific retailers and not convenience stores or gas stations that sell tobacco in addition to other products. However, Councilmember Corinna Contreras said she would like to see this 1,000-foot limit apply to those locations as well.

“Just with the sheer amount of convenience stores, markets and other businesses that do sell tobacco that is already grandfathered in, I think it’s important that we don’t continue the expansion of tobacco,” Contreras said. “The more we can restrict tobacco, the bigger the public health benefit is.”

Chung said staff would look into the possibility of extending these regulations.

At the suggestion of Councilmember Katie Melendez, city officials agreed that all retailers’ fines should go toward youth tobacco prevention programming or scholarships. However, they said they would prefer to see all tobacco retailers comply with the law.

“The amendments that are coming before us are very oriented toward preventing tobacco use for youth, so even if we continue to improve our funding accessibility for our youth scholarships, I think that would be a worthwhile use of these funds,” Melendez said.