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Issue date: October 27, 2000

Council scuttles study of tobacco-sales regulation Council scuttles study of tobacco-sales regulation (October 27, 2000)

By Justin Scheck

The Mountain View City Council voted down a proposed study Tuesday to determine how the city could regulate tobacco sales. The vote came in response to a brief report by City Attorney Mike Martello and Council member Sally Lieber on what cities are legally permitted to do in regulating tobacco.

Council members Mary Lou Zoglin, Nancy Noe, and Sally Lieber voted in favor of conducting a study, while council members Mario Ambra, Mike Kasperzak, Rosemary Stasek, and Ralph Faravelli voted against the measure. Those in opposition cited the large scale of the issue at hand and the costs of the study as reasons for deferring the matter to next year's goal-setting session, which will be held in February.

Martello told the council that cities can regulate tobacco retailers through three main avenues of control: licensing, land-use control (which would require businesses to obtain a conditional-use permit to sell tobacco products), and advertising regulations.

Other possible control measures of tobacco advertising include eliminating window signs within 1,500 feet of a school or residential area, requiring advertising to be at least 5 feet above the ground, and separating tobacco advertising from products aimed at children, such as candy, ice cream, and comic books.

A number of citizens spoke in the public comment section of the discussion, including a group from Stanford University that has conducted a studies on tobacco marketing to children.

Rebecca Lee, a behavioral scientist at the Stanford Center for Research and Disease Prevention, spoke of a 1999 Stanford University study of the 67 Mountain View stores selling tobacco products.

"On average in our study, Mountain View stores had over 13 advertising materials per store, in the form of signs, functional items like trash cans and floor mats that have tobacco advertising on them, and tobacco displays," Lee said. "Of greater concern is the fact that one-third of Mountain View stores had advertising at or below 3 feet."

According to Patricia Jensen, a colleague of Lee's who spoke at the meeting, advertising is not the only problem Mountain View has with tobacco. Jensen said for the 1999 study, the Stanford group sent minors into each tobacco retailer in Mountain View three times in one week to attempt to buy tobacco, and that these attempts were frequently successful.

"We made 201 attempts to buy in those 67 stores; 63 percent of the time stores sold tobacco to minors, and 13 percent of those 67 stores sold all three times," Jensen said.

"Retailers do understand that younger kids shouldn't be smoking, but they aren't checking for identification, and they are still selling to youth out there in the community," she added.

Jensen elaborated on the proliferation of smoking among adolescents, and the fact that other cities in California have begun licensing programs for tobacco retailers. She cited San Mateo and Contra Costa counties as local jurisdictions where retailers must be licensed to sell tobacco.

After hearing this information, the council acknowledged the importance of addressing the issue of underage smoking, but was divided on how and when to perform a study and about the potential actions the city could take. Faravelli questioned whether this was a matter better addressed by the Santa Clara County City Association, and proposed that it be discussed in the council's goal-setting session.

After a motion by Lieber to commission the study, a protracted discussion ensued, in which the council debated the merits of studying the issue before the goal-setting session.

"This is a major, major undertaking, and I'm not saying one way or another how I feel about the merits or demerits of the issue," Stasek said, "but rather when we're talking about things that require a major staff commitment, we make those decisions in our goal-setting session."

Noe, Lieber, and Zoglin felt that while the project should be ultimately discussed in the goal-setting session, it would be productive to have a study in hand prior to that meeting.

In a Wednesday interview, Noe said that all the council members "have expressed a commitment to (addressing) youth tobacco use as a major health issue. We know that when kids start (smoking) in junior high and high school, it's hard to stop."

The disagreement on the study, Noe said, was rooted in differing ideas among council members of when money should be committed to the issue. However, she expressed confidence that tobacco control will remain a priority for the council in the near future. 


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