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Columbia considering proposal to increase enforcement of tobacco laws

COLUMBIA — Columbia became the first city in Missouri with a law prohibiting the sales of tobacco to anyone under 21 years old when it passed its Tobacco 21 policy in December 2014. But city officials say the law by itself did not do enough to curb the sale of tobacco to young people.

Now the city wants to crack down on illegal sales by requiring businesses to obtain a retail license in order to sell the product. If the proposed ordinance is approved by the Columbia City Council after being reviewed by the Board of Health, a business caught selling tobacco to a person under 21 could have its license revoked. Draft legislation of the ordinance was approved unanimously at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp championed the proposed legislation at the meeting. He cited research by the MU Tobacco Control Resource Center showing that local licensing laws reduce rates of tobacco sales to youth by 30 percent.

“If we’re going to see a real impact from Tobacco 21, we’re going to have to enforce it, and in order to enforce it, we’re going to have to have an enforcement regime,” Trapp said. “Licensing could add teeth to that.”

Since the Tobacco 21 ordinance went into effect, 9.8 percent of tobacco retailers had violations during the U.S. Food and Drug Administration compliancy checks.

Compared to the rest of Missouri, Columbia has had lower rates of violations, but the city had one of eight stores nationally that faced a 30-day ban on selling tobacco. The Food and Drug Administration found in October 2015 that Break Time at 110 E. Nifong Blvd. repeatedly sold tobacco to minors.

Former First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick originally proposed the Tobacco 21 policy in the hopes of reducing the likelihood of creating lifelong smokers by cutting off access to tobacco for young people. According to a 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 80 percent of adult cigarette smokers began smoking before the age of 18.

Chadwick said she hoped Tobacco 21 would be enough to curb smoking among Columbia’s young people and that businesses would comply with the city law.

“Not only were they not complying with Columbia’s law, they were breaking the federal law of selling to under-18-year-olds,” she said.

However, most convenience stores in Columbia do follow the law and don’t sell tobacco to people under the age limit.

Beth Niekamp, the shift leader at Break Time on Grindstone Parkway, said they already refuse to sell to people under 21 and confiscate any fake IDs. She said the only times they run into problems are when people come in from out-of-town and aren’t familiar with the city’s law.

“I don’t think a retail license would affect us much, because we already strictly enforce the law,” Niekamp said.

If the city passes the ordinance, Niekamp said she would definitely purchase the license.

Chadwick and Jenna Wintemberg, an instructor with the MU Department of Health Sciences and a member of Tobacco Free Missouri, originally presented the idea for retail licensing to the Boone County Department of Health and Human Services in August 2015.

Chadwick said the license would not only fund the compliance checks but also give the city public data of where the retail outlets are located.

“What we know about the tobacco industry is it targets youth and low socio-economic groups,” Chadwick said. “The highest prevalence rates are in those at-risk demographics, and so to know where tobacco retailers are, we can know exactly how many tobacco outlets there are in the state and exactly how close they are to schools.”

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