After Half Moon Bay late last year adopted restrictions on smoking and the sale of tobacco, including flavored tobacco products, one local retailer stuck with $62,000 worth of now-illegal inventory is requesting a grace period to sell it off. 

The ordinances that the City Council adopted in October of 2018 prohibit smoking in certain places, require tobacco retailers to obtain a permit, prevent pharmacies from selling tobacco and also ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city, among other restrictions. Most of those rules took effect on Nov. 15 of that year, but the restrictions on pharmacies and flavored tobacco specifically did not take effect until April 1, 2019, to allow businesses time to transition. 

At a meeting Tuesday, Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester said all tobacco retailers in the city adapted to the new rules without a problem, except for one: Discount Cigarettes and Cigars, located at 80 Cabrillo Highway North in the Strawflower Shopping Center. 

Fereshta Rahmati, who owns the business with her husband, said she purchased $62,000 worth of flavored tobacco products before the ban on those products was approved, adding that some of the product didn’t arrive until March — one month before the flavored tobacco ban took effect — because her supplier experienced delays.

Rahmati is asking the council for a three- to five-month grace period to sell the inventory or else her business will be $62,000 in the red because she can’t return the flavored tobacco and it’s against state law to sell or transfer it to another business.

“Sixty-two-thousand is such a huge loss for a small business to have in a year,” she said. “We’ll be filing for a loss [if the flavored tobacco isn’t sold] and we’ll be audited based on losses and we’re trying to avoid all that.”

Rahmati noted that her business is only open to people above the age of 21 and that she has amassed over 300 signatures of support for her grace period request.

Some councilmembers were sympathetic to her situation and to granting her a grace period.

“We passed the ordinance for good reasons, for health of community we live in,” said Councilwoman Deborah Penrose. “On the other hand, I don’t see why giving you a short grace period of perhaps two months which may not help you get rid of the entire inventory, but help you some is a way of saying we support small businesses in our town.” 

Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock felt a grace period would be unfair and a slippery slope.

“We’ve made a policy decision that we don’t want these products in our community and I’m having a hard time giving a grace period for one retailer for potentially many months when other retails have abided by it and we’re going against a policy decision that we made,” she said.

According to a staff report, Discount Cigarettes and Cigars was aware of the ordinance as early as August of last year and continued to purchase flavored tobacco between November and March, well after the passage of the ban on those products but still prior to the ban going into effect.  

Councilmembers ultimately agreed to entertain a possible grace period if Rahmati can prove that she ordered the $62,000 worth of unsold flavored tobacco before the ban was approved in October 2018. Rahmati appeared confident she would be able to do so and the council will vote on a grace period at its next meeting after data on order dates is obtained.

In other business, the council decided to ban glass containers at all city parks and beaches and also change the hours of operation to between sunrise and sunset. Parks previously closed at 9 p.m. Ruddock said broken glass is a common safety hazard at Poplar Beach, for example, and new signs outlining the rule changes will be installed at all parks this summer. 

Councilmembers also expressed interest in restrictions on the use of drones in city parks and beaches and City Manager Bob Nisbet said staff will likely return with proposed regulations in the near future. 

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