Northern California City Takes Action to Curb Youth Smoking

Healdsburg, CA

Since the 1990s, several physicians in Sonoma County, CA, have spearheaded the effort to curb tobacco use in the rural hub of Healdsburg. Dr. Dave Anderson and Dr. Brad Drexler shared a concern about youth smoking, and they advocated for strategies to limit youth access to tobacco products. Healdsburg Mayor Jim Wood and City Councilmember Tom Chambers later joined the cause, making it a city priority.

In 2014, they took action. With support and guidance from the Coalition for a Tobacco-free Sonoma County and the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, these local stakeholders and city officials researched regional tobacco purchasing trends, solicited technical assistance, and developed a robust tobacco control policy in Healdsburg.

Creating a Policy

The doctors and their partners enlisted the help of a regional public health agency, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, to analyze the problem and find solutions. The Department contacted ChangeLab Solutions to learn what local tobacco control policies would target youth consumption. Our staff attorneys suggested tobacco retailer licensing (TRL) as a viable strategy.

With TRL, our attorneys explained, a jurisdiction monitors local tobacco sales by requiring retailers to purchase a license to sell tobacco products. The licensing fees cover the costs of TRL development, enforcement, and administration.

License enforcement is how this policy helps address an issue like youth smoking. Regular store inspections and compliance checks ensure retailers aren’t selling to minors, and the threat of fines for underage sales serves as a deterrent. As a system that pays for itself, TRL is a comprehensive, cost-effective policy strategy for regulating tobacco retailers’ business practices and, in turn, reducing youth access.

“We had never really considered tobacco retailer licensing in Sonoma County—historically, there has been a lack of local political will around this type of policy,” said Jay Macedo, Sonoma County State Local Lead Agency Coordinator. “But ChangeLab Solutions showed us a strong TRL law could effectively prevent youth access to tobacco products and decrease youth purchasing. TRL could protect our citizens.”

Our staff attorneys used ChangeLab Solutions’ Tobacco Retailer Licensing Model Ordinance to help local officials customize a TRL policy that fit Healdsburg’s needs. Drawing from Policy Provisions for a Tobacco Retailer License, the ChangeLab Solutions tobacco control team added supplemental provisions to the ordinance that were particularly important to local and regional advocates, including prohibiting the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies.

“As a non-lawyer,” Macedo said, “I was impressed the model ordinance was so easy to understand and use. I think it speaks volumes about ChangeLab Solutions’ resources that someone who isn’t a lawyer could easily use this legal template.”

Implementing Tobacco Retailer Licensing

In November 2014, the Healdsburg City Council reviewed and approved the first TRL ordinance in Sonoma County. The policy is scheduled to go into effect in July 2015. The city also became the first in the state to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21.

“There are now more than one hundred local TRL ordinances in place in California,” said Ray Leung, ChangeLab Solutions’ staff attorney who helped provide technical assistance. “It’s exciting to see Healdsburg join the ranks of California communities working locally to regulate tobacco sales and keep tobacco products away from young people.”

ChangeLab Solutions is now available to provide technical assistance around tobacco retailer licensing to states, cities, and counties across the country. To submit a request for technical assistance, please call us at (510) 302-3380 or submit your question online.

Photo not taken in Healdsburg