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Dickinson City Commission holds hearing on tobacco ordinance

Only two people spoke at a Dickinson City Commission public hearing Monday regarding a proposed city ordinance to create a license to sell tobacco in the city and both spoke in support of it.

"We are 100 percent in support of this," said Tammy Hovet, tobacco coordinator for Southwest District Health Unit. "We welcome the ordinance and think it would be great because we need to come up with solutions to solve this problem."

At its July 23 meeting, the commission discussed the ordinance and changing the way the city deals with people who would like to sell tobacco.

While they back the ordinance, Hovet and Jennifer Schaeffer with Tobacco Prevention and Control, expressed some concern about accountability.

"We've provided numerous compliance checks over the years and found that the amount of establishments selling to minors has actually increased over the years," Hovet said. "We actually get phone calls and people say, 'What's going to happen to us (for selling tobacco to minors)? And it's hard to say, but we have to be honest and say no they're not going to get fined."

City Administrator Shawn Kessel the commission could include penalties in the ordinance to deter businesses from violating the law.

"We could request that we issue a license much akin to a liquor license, rather than simply acknowledge that these businesses are selling tobacco inside the city of Dickinson," he said. "The commission could establish an administrative fine process as well, so they would be financially obligated to pay a certain amount. Much like handicap parking tickets go to support the mayor's commission on disability, if the commission so chooses those administrative fees from tobacco sales could go to your agency to continue compliance checks."

When retailers are caught selling tobacco to minors, Mayor Dennis Johnson agreed there should be consequences.

"I would suspect that the compliance checks would be much more effective if there were consequences to failing the compliance tests," he said. "Right now, at least in our city, I don't think there are any consequences to failing the test."

Kessel said the fines for businesses who sell to minors are currently processed through municipal court.

"Once they're in that process, we lose control, so to speak," he said. "But if we change those to administrative fees, we as the city could retain more control and share those dollars in the requests that you made."

The license would allow the city to do annual staff reviews to make sure sellers are complying with the city ordinance, check state licensures and make sure the businesses are paying proper taxes to the state.

"Today, they could simply set up operations and we may not be aware that they have done so for quite some time," Kessel said. "They may have appropriate authority from the state, but sometimes that communication between cities and the state takes time. Sometimes they just setup and don't have any authority, from the state or the city, so our hope is to create a process that licenses tobacco retailers on an annual basis and ensures that they are getting regular compliance checks."