Wieckowski bill to restrict minors' exposure to tobacco products dies in Assembly

June 28, 2016

Sacramento – Senator Bob Wieckowski’s (D-Fremont) bill to restrict the exposure and marketing of tobacco products to children died in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee this morning despite research on the harmful effects it has on minors.  SB 1400 would have limited tobacco sales to cigar shops, where minors must be accompanied by a parent.

“Tobacco products have a pervasive presence in retail stores throughout California,” said Wieckowski, the chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.  “They are widely shown in front of children’s eyes on store shelves and marketing displays.  By putting in common sense limits on where they can be sold, we can reduce the exposure of minors to these harmful products and decrease the number of children who become addicted to cigarettes.  It’s disappointing that Assembly support didn’t match public support to reduce the ubiquitous presence of tobacco retailers and thereby improve the health of Californians.”   

Retailers selling tobacco products must obtain a license from the state Board of Equalization.  Retail locations include convenience stores, grocery stores, gas stations, drug stores, airports, hookah lounges and tobacco shops.  SB 1400 would have changed the definition for tobacco retail locations to mean a store that generates more than 60 percent of its gross revenues annually from the sale of tobacco products and paraphernalia.    

A Stanford University study of the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics found that convenience stores popular with adolescents displayed three times as many cigarette marketing materials in store windows, almost three times more advertising inside, and twice as much shelf space to top brands bought by minors than other convenience stores located in the same community.

“Tobacco retailers are nearly as prevalent as automatic tellers machines, which raises concern about why products that are used by less than 15 percent of California adults should be as readily available as cash,” said Dr. Lisa Henriksen, co-author of the Stanford study and a senior research scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.  Her research finds that almost half of California public schools are within 1,000 feet of a tobacco retailer, and youth are unavoidably exposed to product displays behind the counter that typically show more than 120 cigarette packs.   “In our survey of 1,500 California students who had never smoked, 18 percent tried smoking within 12 months, but this rate increased to 29 percent among students who visited convenience stores at least twice a week.”

The pervasive availability of tobacco products influences the number of people who choose to smoke, according to Henriksen’s research.  Increasing taxes deters some smokers, but the overabundance of suppliers makes it more difficult for others to quit.

“Approximately one-third of adult smokers said they would smoke fewer cigarettes if they had to travel farther to get them, and younger smokers were even more likely to agree with this statement,” Henriksen said.

Every year, roughly 40,000 Californians die from a tobacco-related illness.  A 2014 University of California, San Francisco study found that smoking-related, preventable diseases cost California $18 billion in direct healthcare costs and indirect costs from lost productivity due to illness and premature death.  

Wieckowski told the committee that tobacco shops could receive greater oversight as a result of the overall reduction in tobacco outlets that would have occurred under SB 1400 and local jurisdictions’ zoning authority.

More than 100 cities have passed tobacco-free pharmacy laws and CVS stopped selling tobacco in its stores as a commitment to health.

“We want to thank Senator Wieckowski for taking a stand.  More of our state legislators should follow his example and make kids our top priority,” said Common Sense Founder and CEO James P. Steyer.  “Instead of supporting common sense legislation to help address the pediatric epidemic of tobacco use, Assembly Business and Professions Committee members sided once again with convenience store owners and the political bullies from the tobacco industry.  It’s clear that Sacramento needs a watchdog to fight for our kids.  That’s why Common Sense Kids Action will continue working to expose anyone – including those special interests – who take actions like this one that are so obviously against kids.”

SB 1400 was supported by many public safety and health organizations, including the California College and University Police Chiefs Association, the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Stroke Association, the County Health Executives Association of California, the California Primary Care Association, the First 5 Association of California, the Regional Asthma Management & Prevention, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and Dr. Stanton Glantz, a UCSF Professor of Medicine.   

Nationally, the Surgeon General projects that about 5.6 million American children who start smoking as minors will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases.  

Senator Wieckowski represents the 10th District, which includes southern Alameda County and northeast Santa Clara County.