New tobacco ordinance targets underage sales in Fresno

FRESNO, Calif.

Tobacco makes up a third of Rahul Thakur's annual sales at his North Fresno liquor store ... that's good business. However, a new ordinance is in the works that would require nearly 600 stores in the city of Fresno to pay an annual licensing fee for selling this addictive substance.

Thakur: "There's already been a lot of tax increases. The economy is down on top of that ... there's tax increases so the sales are going down, the consumers are spending less."

Councilmember Mike Dages is sponsoring this ordinance. He wants to stop retailers from selling cigarettes and other forms of tobacco to minors.

Dages: "A huge problem. They've done some statistics and it looks as though 1/3 of retailers are actually selling to decoys that are under 18-years old."

About 60 other cities in California have adopted similar ordinances. Dages is supported by the American Lung Association, which said underage sales were cut in half or ended altogether in those cities. Annual fees for business owners in Fresno could range from $100 to $350.

"If the fees are reasonable I don't think there's going to be a problem," said Harry Gill who owns a convenience store in Caruthers.

Gill supports the ordinance and preventing underage smoking but questions where the money will go.

Gill: "If they are using it just to increase the city money that is not right to put the burden on the store owners."

Dages said the money will support a police decoy program designed to catch and stop retailers from selling to minors. Fines for breaking the law could range from $1,000 to losing a tobacco license. Smokers we spoke to support the ordinance that could reach a vote sometime in August.

Reynaldo Rey said: "Whatever it takes to get the city what they need money wise. I say it's a good idea."

Matthew Fields said: "I think it is important to detour young people from smoking but I think cost is not going to deter young people."

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