Effort to gut anti-smoking regulations rejected by Philly City Council committee

Pat Loeb
December 05, 2018 - 7:39 pm
Philadelphia City Hall

Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Smoking opponents beat back an effort in Philadelphia city council to reverse rules limiting tobacco sale permits.

The Board of Health adopted a rule, two years ago, aimed at lowering the unusually high density of cigarette sellers in the city's low-income neighborhoods and near schools by making permits to sell tobacco in those areas nontransferable. But Councilman Mark Squilla says it lowered the value of stores when the owner was ready to sell. 

RELATED: City Council hearing attempts to roll back anti-smoking regulations​

He introduced a bill to eliminate the rule. 

7-11's local market manager, Janice Tancredi, testified in support, saying 40 of its 57 stores would lose their permits and thus, their value.

"This is critical to the financial situation of the city and our franchisees as well. We're going to be losing taxes and the support of the neighborhoods. We're a beacon in the night. We're a 24 hour business and the communities count on us," Tancredi said. 

Councilman Al Taubenberger was among those who opposed the rules, and for a very personal reason. 

"If my parents, when they sold their delicatessen, a delicatessen that was their retirement and helped put me through college, if retail cigarette sales were taken away from that, the person that bought it from them would never have bought it. Never. Never, ever, ever," he said. 
 
So Taubenberger was sympathetic with the small store owners who came to urge the council to gut the rules. Otherwise, they argued, they'd lose their nest egg because no one would buy a convenience store that can't sell cigarettes.

On the other side were numerous health organizations, parents and Health Commissioner Tom Farley, who said the rule is already working to reduce the number of cigarette retailers in low-income neighborhoods, where there are three times as many tobacco sellers as in other neighborhoods.

"Researchers have shown that children living in neighborhoods with more tobacco sellers are significantly more likely to start smoking, and adult smokers in those neighborhoods are less likely to quit," Farley said. 

Health advocates such as Dr. Marla Gold also opposed the bill, arguing that protecting children from cigarette marketing should be a higher priority.

"I know that no business owner here means to harm the health of residents, but the tobacco industry has long targeted with inequity, communities of color and low-income individuals and they do it through point of sales with 80 to 90 percent of their marketing," Gold said. 

Farley's reasoning won in the end as the committee voted five to three against the bill.

"So that we're going to reduce the marketing of the number one killer product in America, in low-income neighborhoods. That's a great day," Farley said.