Colorfully-packaged tobacco products like Swisher Sweets and Backwoods are mainstays in corner stores across the country. Some say that the bright wrapping and flavors like peach and fruit punch make these products attractive to the kids who encounter them while buying snacks. That’s why by the end of 2018, retailers within Richmond’s city limits will be barred from selling these products.
For the last two years, a group of local high school students who collaborated with the Youth Tobacco Advocacy and Policy Project (YTAPP) conducted research about the about the number of tobacco retailers in West Contra Costa County. The students found that neighborhoods with the lowest income residents had the highest number of tobacco retailers. They argued that this was unfair, and that the tobacco industry is preying on low-income communities by concentrating tobacco advertisements in places with a lot of black and brown people.
“It’s so normalized in these types of communities,” said YTAPP student Lynsey Inthasone, a senior at DeAnza High School. “Especially if they’re low-income and have more minorities.”
“You look at other communities, and they don’t have these kind of retailers,” said Karina Guadalupe, director of YTAPP, comparing the number of tobacco retailers in Richmond to a more affluent city like Orinda.
Vice Mayor Melvin Willis introduced the ordinance last year. In early February, city council members voted on specific terms, such as allowing stores to continue to sell flavored tobacco products that come in packs of five because these cost more money, and are considered less accessible to kids than the single packs that cost $2 or less.
City manager Bill Lindsay says he will work with the city attorney to organize workshops to inform affected retailers about the city council’s adoption process and the changes that will come with the new tobacco ordinance. Lindsay says he plans to take the retailers’ feedback to city council members before they conduct their first reading of the newly drafted ordinance, which is expected to happen sometime in March.
This story was updated on February 23, 2018 with information about the outreach that the city manager will conduct.