Nearly 150 Philadelphia shops will be barred from renewing their tobacco sales permits this year because they repeatedly violated city regulations against selling tobacco products to children, city health officials announced Wednesday.
The 149 businesses were caught selling to minors between three and seven times in two years, a violation of a law that went into effect in 2017.
Similar action was taken last January against four stores found to be selling to teens under age 18. But Wednesday’s announcement represents a larger-scale enforcement, said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.
“This is a sign that the city is serious about protecting our kids from these killer, addictive products,” Farley said. “Stores that have been selling cigarettes to children over the years are going to be discovered in the future, and they’re going to lose their tobacco sales privileges if they continue to do this.”
Many of the stores that will lose their selling permits are concentrated in poor, predominantly minority neighborhoods in North, West, and Southwest Philadelphia. They represent 6% of the approximately 2,600 businesses with tobacco sales permits, according to city officials.
The health department conducts random compliance checks by sending adolescents into stores to ask to buy tobacco products. If they are sold the products, the department issues the business a ticket and provides education to the owner about the city’s tobacco youth sales laws and the potential consequences of violations, said city officials. Three violations in two years result in merchants losing their tobacco sales permits.
Critics of the policy have said the city’s enforcement actions stand to especially hurt small business owners. Farley said he hopes the news of the city’s crackdown will persuade other merchants to check young buyers’ identification before selling them tobacco products.
“We don’t think stores should sell these products to teenagers,” Farley said. “We take seriously our role protecting our teens.”
Last month, Mayor Jim Kenney signed a bill banning the sale of flavored vaping pods at stores that teens and other children are allowed to enter, such as 7-Elevens and Wawas, as well as smaller retailers. The law will be phased in over three months, starting with an education period to alert retailers about the change. Violators will be fined and may have their sales permits revoked if they repeatedly disobey the law.
The mayor also signed a law banning flavored mini-cigars, or cigarillos, that are popular with youths. The bill has a 60-day notification period.
City officials encourage people to report illegal sales of tobacco products by texting “Smoke” to 474747 or calling 1-888-99-SMOKE (1-888-997-6653).