After Half Moon Bay City Council adopted several ordinances last year aimed at keeping the area smoke-free, one local retailer had trouble with the transition. He says he was left with several thousands of dollars in inventory that was no longer salable in the city. 

At the May 21 City Council meeting, Fereshta Rahmati, who with her husband owns Discount Cigarettes and Cigars in Strawflower Village, asked for as much as a five-month grace period to sell $62,000 worth of flavored tobacco products. Since then, the Rahmatis have withdrawn their request and are resigned to losing money on their inventory.

“As a small business, we cannot afford to lose that money,” Rahmati said during public comments at the May meeting. 

Rahmati explained they purchased $140,000 worth of flavored tobacco inventory, before learning of the city’s ordinance banning the sales.

In October 2018, City Council adopted the nonsmoking ordinances. 

They prohibited smoking in certain places, required permits for tobacco retailers and prevented pharmacies from selling tobacco. Additionally, the new rules banned the sale of flavored tobacco products by any retailer within city limits.

The rules for smoking in the city went into effect on Nov. 15 2018, but those pertaining to pharmacies and sales of flavored tobacco did not start until April 1, 2019.

That was to allow businesses time to prepare, according to Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester. 

Rahmati, who operates the only such tobacco retailer in Half Moon Bay, explained to the City Council she was misinformed and didn’t think the new regulations applied to her shop. She thought the ordinance for the city was the same as that enforced in San Mateo County, and that “only tobacco stores were allowed to sell flavored tobacco.” 

“We were under the impression we were OK until further notice,” Rahmati said. 

Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock was not in favor of granting a grace period because she felt it would be unfair to other businesses that have complied with the ban. 

“My charge is in the public interest and we passed an ordinance and I cannot make an exception for that because of business prosperity,” Ruddock said. 

Other council members acknowledged the ban is impacting a small business. 

City Council members had asked for the consideration of the grace period to be pushed to the next meeting. But since the May 21 meeting, Chidester explained Rahmati has decided to drop the request. 

On Monday, Sam Rahmati said the shop is no longer seeking a grace period because, if the city was only considering “35 to 45 days,” the delay was not worth the effort to his business. 

“It’s a big loss,” Sam Rahmati said.

Rahmati has more than 350 signed petitions from customers stating they did not approve the ban on flavored tobacco products. He said customers told him they were preparing to “strike” against the city for the ban.

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