Reynoldsburg eyes licensing program for businesses selling…


Scott Gerfen  |  ThisWeek USA TODAY NETWORK

Businesses in Reynoldsburg that sell tobacco products would be required to purchase a license and undergo compliance checks to ensure they aren’t selling to those younger than 21, according to a proposed law.

The ordinance, which received its first reading during City Council’s Nov. 26 meeting, would require businesses to buy a $500 license annually to “ensure proper enforcement,” City Attorney Chris Shook said.

Franklin County Public Health would conduct inspection and compliance checks, even in portions of Reynoldsburg located in Licking and Fairfield counties. The proposal says businesses could pay fines or have their license suspended or revoked if they are caught selling tobacco to underage customers.

“They’ve agreed to do two (unannounced) compliance checks a year to determine if (businesses) are doing what this ordinance requires,” Shook said of the county health agency.

The ordinance cites the “dramatic increase in the use of electronic smoking devices and vaping products by persons under the age of 21, contributing to the addiction of a new generation of users to tobacco and nicotine.”

Since 2019, no tobacco, nicotine or vaping products are permitted to be sold in the U.S. to anyone younger than 21. However, Ohio doesn’t have a systematic way of enforcing the law.

“Hundreds of municipalities are using (tobacco retail-license programs), and it’s deterring the bad actors,” Leo Almeida, government relations director for the American Cancer Society’s Ohio Council, told council members.

Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death nationwide, he said.

Almeida noted that in Ohio, 20,200 adults die from smoking every year and 250,000 Ohio children who are alive now will die prematurely due to smoking-related disease.

He said annual healthcare costs in Ohio related to smoking total $6.56 billion.

“We would recommend adding a provision to this ordinance that would end the sale of all flavored tobacco products,” Almeida said. “Flavors are a marketing weapon used by tobacco manufacturers to target youth and young people to a lifetime of addiction.”

Councilman Stacie Baker questioned the need for such a program.

“My thing is trying to charge a store $500 a year to sell something that is legal, and there are laws already set up to not sell to minors,” Baker said. “There’s flavored alcohol out there. I don’t see a push to ban flavored alcohol.”

The Reynoldsburg Police Department does compliance checks annually through undercover buys, according to Shook. However, he didn’t have detailed data on how many citations the department issues.

Councilman Louis Salvati wanted to know the current ramifications for selling tobacco products to someone under age 21.

Shook said the person conducting the sale faces a charge in municipal court.

“Usually, we have them do community service,” he said. “Penalties for the retailer are minimum, practically nonexistent.”

When writing the proposed ordinance, the city approached Franklin County Public Health for help and at the agency’s request, Reynoldsburg modeled its proposal after a law in Hilliard, which is among central Ohio cities that have enacted tobacco retail-license programs.

“For most of these businesses, the sale of tobacco is their lifeblood, and if they lose that, they lose their business,” Shook said. “The motivation to comply, I’d hope, would be significant.”

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