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City council approves rules for stores selling nicotine products

UPDATE, 10:19 p.m.: The Columbia City Council unanimously approved rules targeting stores selling tobacco and vapor smoking products.

The rules require stores selling the items to get a license from the city by June 30 to do so.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp offered several amendments to the plan on Monday night, including a requirement that the city perform yearly compliance checks with the licensed stores. The checks would ensure stores are following the rules, similar to compliance checks with stores selling alcohol.

Council members voted down the amendment with a 5-2 vote. Only Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas joined Trapp in supporting his amendment.

Health department staff feared that their employees did not have enough time to perform the checks. Director Stephanie Browning said the checks would burden not only her department, but the city’s business license administration.

Supporters of the compliance checks said it would be th only way to ensure stores followed the rules. Advocates said the city’s enforcement could help curb young people’s use of vapor smoking products.

Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer said the city should take a good look at how it funds enforcement of rules such as the ones passed on Monday.

“I often hear the complaint, ‘Well, you got the regulation or an ordinance, but no way to enforce it,'” Pitzer said. “So, let’s take a look at eight or 10 different things and figure outa way to address them out with some non-law enforcement way of doing that.”

ORIGINAL: The Columbia City Council is set to vote on new rules for stores selling tobacco products.

The council will consider whether or not to require stores get a free license from the city in order to sell products like cigarettes or vapor smoking products. Stores would also be required to display signs reminding people that Columbia’s minimum age to buy such products is 21 years old.

The new rules would also increase the fines against stores for breaking the rules. The municipal judge could levy a fine between $200 and $1,000, up from the $100 fine currently in place.

The city’s board of health endorsed the plan at it’s meeting last Thursday. Chairwoman Mahree Skala told ABC 17 News that the rules could help the city track the stores selling tobacco products and know where to focus it’s enforcement efforts.

Critics of the plan say the cost of firing an employee caught breaking the rules, then re-hiring and training a new employee, is a burdensome cost enough.

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