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Richmond Passes 45-Day Retail Moratorium on Tobacco to Deal With 'Excessive Smoke Shops'

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Packs of Marlboro cigarettes are displayed at a smoke shop on April 28, 2023, in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Amid community concerns regarding an over-proliferation of tobacco and smoke shops in the city, the Richmond City Council voted on Tuesday to unanimously approve a tobacco retail moratorium that will place a 45-day hold on granting new licenses.

“[The moratorium is] at the request of many Richmond residents,” said Mayor Eduardo Martinez, one of the ordinance’s original proponents. “We’ve gotten a lot of complaints of excessive smoke shops, and they seem to take issue with the sort of traffic that comes through.”

Other co-sponsors of the ordinance include Vice Mayor Claudia Jimenez and City Councilmember Melvin Willis.

In Richmond, there are currently 78 licensed tobacco retailers, according to a press release from the Mayor’s Office. Martinez noted, however, that there are also smoke shops within the city currently operating without licenses or violating existing tobacco regulations.

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Martinez said the moratorium on new tobacco licenses will allow the city to allocate more resources toward supporting code enforcement efforts on existing businesses.

“I think it highlights to the city that we need to hire more people for code enforcement, thereby being able to regulate code compliance,” Martinez said.

As for the moratorium itself, Martinez noted that the proposal is part of a larger effort to address additional issues with tobacco retail in Richmond. He added that future plans may include stricter regulations overseeing which tobacco products can be sold and which should be banned. The ordinance advises the city, for example, to consider greater restrictions on vaping products and vapor smoking devices.

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Jimenez said the moratorium represents the city’s desire to prioritize businesses that provide residents with healthier options for food and recreation.

“What are the options that we want for the community?” she said. “We don’t have many stores where people can have access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the city, and so I think what it will benefit is that the city is putting efforts to try and bring healthy options instead of just a smoke shop or liquor store.”

The ordinance is the most recent of several anti-tobacco and anti-drug paraphernalia laws that have made headlines in the Bay Area over the past year. In San Francisco, for example, the Board of Supervisors earlier this month passed an ordinance prohibiting new smoke shops from opening North of Market and in the Lower Polk Street commercial district.

Richmond’s City Council has the option of extending the moratorium for more than 10 months following a public hearing.

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