By Miriam Raftery
May 13, 2022 (El Cajon) – A sting operation found 24 retailers in El Cajon sold tobacco to minors without asking for ID, in violation of the city’s Tobacco Retail License Inspection Program. That’s 23% of all outlets inspected.
Nine were second-time violators within the past three years and one retailer was a third-time violator.
All violators, including first-time and repeat offenders, must pay a $2,500 fine. After a second violation, the retailer also faces a mandatory 60-day suspension. Third-time violators face a 120-day suspension. If a retailer violates the ordinance a fourth time, their tobacco retailer license must be revoked.
The violators ranged from smoke shops to food markets, liquor stores, gas stations, and convenience stores including 7-11.
USA Gas on Cuyamaca Street, the only third-time violator, will be suspended from selling tobacco for 120 days. Those facing 60-day suspensions as second-time violators including three 7-11 outlets, Ash Smoke Shop, Kaeline’s Market, San Diego Food Mart, Shell Gas-Jamacha Oil, and United Oil/76 Gas.
The city modified its ordinance in 2019 to make second and third violations have more severe penalties but also allows part of the penalty fine to be reimbursed if retailers have staff get additional training.
City Manager Graham Mitchell, in a memorandum to the Mayor and City Council, said is appears the amended 2019 code has had “little to no impact on selling tobacco products to minors.”
But Gary Kendrick, author of the city’s stringent tobacco retail ordinance, disagrees.
“When we first passed the ordinance, 43% of the stores were selling to kids,” he recalls. “ That’s substantially more than the 23% in the latest sting.
Sting operations are held annually for most retailers, but twice a year once a retailer has been caught selling to minors.
Kendrick concludes, “What it just shows is we just have to keep on them, otherwise they’ll just go back to their bad behavior. At some point the ones that don’t behave and sell these poisons to kids will find themselves out of business.”