VISTA — The Vista City Council set a limit this week on the number of tobacco retailers permitted to operate locally as part of a continued effort to regulate the expansion of tobacco in the community.
The council agreed on Oct. 24 to set a cap at 70, accounting for 67 existing businesses with active tobacco retail licenses and three businesses currently applying for a license. This cap does not prevent tobacco retailers from transferring their licenses upon selling their businesses.
Other businesses seeking a tobacco retail license would be placed on a waiting list. They could only apply if the number of licenses fell below the cap due to attrition — when businesses fail to renew their license or lose their good standing due to code violations.
However, the council said that as attrition occurs in the future, they would like to gradually lower the cap, possibly to 60.
“It would be important, as businesses may lose their good standing, that that gets reported to the council so we can continue to lower the number of retail tobacco licenses in general in our city,” said Councilmember Corinna Contreras.
City Attorney Walter Chung said two businesses have failed to renew their tobacco licenses in the past two months, but that generally doesn’t happen too often.
When discussions about a cap began in August, local convenience store owners selling tobacco shared concerns about how their businesses might be affected.
Representatives from the Neighborhood Market Association and National Association of Tobacco Outlets also spoke to the council, encouraging the city to work with retailers to develop fair regulations.
“I guarantee you, these potential businesses will go to another city that will allow them to apply for these privileges and sell these tobacco products legally,” Neighborhood Market Association President Arkan Somo told the council in August.
At the Oct. 24 meeting, several residents encouraged the city not to allow the transfer of tobacco retailer licenses. However, council members said that would hurt existing owners who may eventually choose to sell their business, which they cannot do without a valid license.
“I don’t want to impair businesses that may want to sell in the future, whatever might happen. I don’t want to decrease their value, for people who have poured themselves into opening a business,” said Councilmember Dan O’Donnell.
Many Vistans have been vocal over the past year about the need to reduce local tobacco use, particularly the use of e-cigarettes among youth. Around 2.5 million middle and high school students, or 1 in 10, reported using e-cigarettes nationally in 2022, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In response to these concerns, the city council in March agreed to increase fines for the sale of tobacco to minors. The ordinance increased fines for the first offense from $200 to $1,000 for retailers, among other penalties.
“As someone who works closely with youth, I can personally say I have seen an increase of e-cigarette use in high schools. Although flavors have been banned in the state, this policy must be enforced,” said Alex Carrasco, Community Engagement Coordinator for Vista Community Clinic’s Tobacco Control Team.