New SF proposal would limit tobacco licenses in city

Cigarettes might be more difficult to buy in some neighborhoods if a youth influence organization gets their way.

Youth Leadership Institute, an organization in the field of youth development which works to build communities that invest in youth, has presented their initiative to several city supervisors that would put a limit on the number of tobacco sale permits — eventually reducing the number of tobacco retailers in certain neighborhoods, specifically the Tenderloin, Mission, South of Market and Bayview.

Malaysia Sanders, 19, is one of seven youth advocates for the Tobacco Use Reduction Force (TURF) that is working to alleviate the saturation of tobacco retailers. She said having so many places that sell tobacco gives the wrong message.

“It shows smoking cigarettes is normal. Smoking is not okay for anybody, especially people of color. We want to change that image,” Sanders said.

YLI conducted its own research counting the number of tobacco retailers in San Francisco and found a disproportionate amount in low-income neighborhoods. The Tenderloin, for example, has 270 stores and the Marina District 51.

“I think it’s unfair to people of color and youth,” Sanders said, who is person of color herself. “For me, it’s setting up the image of killing themselves.”

According to the California Adult Smoking Prevalence 2008 survey, 13.5 percent of San Franciscans smoke. The Center for Disease Control estimates 45.3 million people smoke nationwide.

Avni Desai, YLI’s program coordinator, said low-income communities are vulnerable to smoking because they are targeted by tobacco companies by offering retailers in their neighborhoods. She said the practice is socially unjust.

TURF’s proposal, which has been presented to individual Supervisors, does not try to eliminate any existing retailers, but prohibits the issuance of any new licenses. That includes the transferring of licenses if the business is sold.

San Francisco has already passed many anti-smoking laws, like prohibiting tobacco sales in pharmacies in 2012, and a ban on smoking in public places in January of this year.

South of Market liquor store owner, Joseph Al, said the plan can benefit him by reducing competition, but he will lose profit if he tries to sell his business.

“When you are selling your store, you’re selling your license,” he explained.

If he wanted to sell his store, he would have to sell it at a lower price because that profit will no longer be available.

SF State art education student Hillari Marchesini, 20, said this new plan is a good idea, but will not be very affective. She has been smoking for five years and said if similar actions were taken when she were younger, it would not have impeded her desire to smoke.

“I think it’s a good idea as in the long run,” Marchesini said. “I understand their reason to not cultivate new smokers, that makes sense, but I don’t think it is going to stop people.”

Marchesini said a better approach would be to offer education on the dangers of smoking and resources for smokers wanting to quit.

The proposal has not yet been presented to the Board of Supervisors to be considered for vote.


Editor’s Note: This article has been revised to correct the spelling of Avni Desai’s name and the statements referring to the proposal’s status. 

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