Five people in city council meeting. The words "California opportunity lives here" are visible behind them, along with the U.S. and California flags.

Antioch Reconsiders Smoke Shop Restrictions

Five people in city council meeting. The words "California opportunity lives here" are visible behind them, along with the U.S. and California flags.

(Screenshot captured by Julia Métraux / The CC Pulse)

By Julia Métraux

Over the past decade, the city of Antioch has addressed the harmful health effects of smoking tobacco through local city legislation. For example, in 2017, the Antioch City Council voted to ban new tobacco shops and phase out existing stores that specialize in cigarettes and cigars.

At its March 28 meeting, the Antioch City Council considered rescinding certain restrictions from its local tobacco ordinance, specifically that little cigars must be sold in packs of 20, large cigars must be sold in packs of at least six, and any packages of cigarettes, cigars or little cigars must be sold for at least $10. The City Council also reconsidered its ban on selling businesses that sell these products already — even to family members.

“There are some exceptions, including a convenience store when attached to a gas station,” Antioch acting city manager Forrest Ebbs said. “Otherwise, a new business opening in town should not expect to be able to sell tobacco products as that is prohibited.”

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During public comment, owners and workers of small businesses in Antioch that sell tobacco products said that some restrictions passed in 2017 were an overstep. Council member Lori Ogorchock said the ordinance was passed due to concerns about rising new smoke shops and tobacco retailers in the city.

“There was nobody coming from the smoke shops or the liquor stores, letting us know the effect that it was going to create for their businesses,” Ogorchock said. “​​The businesses have reached out, and there are some changes that they’re asking us as a council to reconsider.”

The discussion of flavored tobacco products was also briefly mentioned. Those products were set to be banned in the city following a March 2022 meeting, with the City Council voting 3-2 on that measure, even if the state of California did not uphold its 2020 law on the issue following a ballot measure. Young people are more likely to use flavored tobacco. According to research from the Truth Initiative, around three-quarters of youth between 17 and 21 who use non-cigarette tobacco products used flavored tobacco in a 30-day period.

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In November 2022, California residents voted to uphold a 2020 state law “prohibiting tobacco retailers from selling most flavored tobacco products.” The statewide law went into effect in December 2022. California is the second state to ban flavored tobacco products after Massachusetts.

The city of Antioch would not have the authority to supersede a statewide law banning most flavored tobacco, according to Ebbs.

Council member Michael Barbanica said that some parts of the ordinance hurt the relationship between business owners and the city.

“If the whole goal is to stop new smoke shops from coming in, fine,” Barbanica said, “but restricting a business and devaluing a working legal business in our community, from being able to sell to somebody in the future is out of line.”

Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker said she learned a lot from listening to business owners on the harms of not being able to pass down a business to a family member by selling it.

“I’m glad that you educated some of us up here … where we can go ahead and make some changes and level the playing field,” she said.

The Antioch City Council voted 3-2, with Mayor Lamar Thorpe and council member Monica Wilson voting no, to rescind the aforementioned restrictions and allow people to sell their tobacco-selling businesses.

Thorpe said he would work on a timeline for rescinding the restrictions.

“I’ll work with staff in terms of a timeline for bringing the ordinance back with those changes,” he said.

The next regular Antioch City Council Meeting is scheduled for April 11.

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