Some want licensing for tobacco vendors to curb youth smoking
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Proposed laws prohibiting children from having tobacco won't curb teen-age smoking without cooperation from merchants who sell tobacco to minors, health officials and anti-smoking leaders said.
Some say licensing tobacco retailers would ensure their cooperation because they would be barred from selling tobacco should they be caught selling to minors.
"From a common-sense approach, kids should be held responsible," said Lisa Frericks of the American Heart Association in Columbus.
But she doesn't support simply prohibiting youth possession and said more comprehensive approaches, such as vendor licensing, can work better.
Frericks compared tobacco-vendor licensing to the permits alcohol-sellers are required to have and said beer-and-wine sellers are more concerned about whom they sell to because they could lose their permits to sell any alcohol.
An ordinance outlawing possession of tobacco by minors is being debated in suburban Pickerington and a similar bill is under consideration in the Legislature, but neither address tobacco merchants.
Minors in Ohio illegally purchase 12.6 million packs of cigarettes each year, resulting in $21.6 million in sales, said Craig Wethington, health educator with the Fairfield County Health Department. Others get tobacco from parents or friends.
"There is no law in Ohio that says it is illegal for youths to buy tobacco products, but there is a law that says it is illegal to sell tobacco to persons under age 18," Wethington said.
Ohio tobacco retailers are licensed under the state's excise-tax division, and criminal penalties are in place to punish those who sell tobacco to minors.
They can be found guilty of misdemeanors of the fourth degree, which carry a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. Additional violations become third-degree misdemeanors with a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Andy Herf, a spokesman for the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants and the National Association of Convenience Stores, said both groups would oppose additional licensing.
Sen. Larry A. Mumper, R-Marion, is sponsoring a proposal to prohibit a child from having, purchasing, attempting to purchase, paying for or sharing the cost of buying tobacco or papers to roll cigarettes unless accompanied by a parent, adult spouse or legal guardian. His proposal also outlaws furnishing false identification to buy the products.
But as for licensing merchants, Mumper said, "There will be a lot of resistance against that. I'm not sure I want to hold a store clerk responsible for sales."
He hopes his proposal will reach the Senate floor for a vote this month.
The Pickerington City Council has postponed action on a similar ordinance, pending further study. Its proposal also doesn't address tobacco sellers.
In Ohio, the cities of Geneva and Twinsburg license tobacco sellers and ban juvenile tobacco possession. The cities of Aurora and Lakewood and the village of Anna also license tobacco vendors. The effects of the laws, which took effect in the past few years, have not been clear, officials said.