Selling tobacco to a minor leaves an employee and tobacco retail employer at fault, but should the offense be greater at the hand of the employee or the employer who received certified server training?

This questions spurred discussion amongst city officials, health workers and a tobacco retailer during the Dickinson City Commission Tuesday evening at City Hall. The commission held a public hearing on a municipal code amendment relating to the sale of tobacco products, that details the grounds for suspension or revocation of authority to sell if an employee is cited for selling to a minor.

If a licensed tobacco retail employer shows proof that an employee has passed server training, the employer would receive a waiver, City Attorney Christina Wenko said. However, if an employer provides no proof that the employee has not completed his/her server training, they will be charged an administrative fine of $500, Wenko noted.

The maximum penalty if an employee sells tobacco products to a minor is 30 days in jail or a $1,500 fee, or both, Wenko said, adding that this ordinance amendment is to “mirror” current code requirements for alcohol.

“This only pertains to the licensing requirements of the licensee. This does not restrict the individual who actually sells tobacco from being cited as a criminal infraction… This ordinance results from conversations that were had not only with Southwestern District Health but also the tobacco retailers. It is a compromise based on staff recommendations as well as input from both groups,” Wenko said.

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Commissioner John Odermann questioned why this ordinance would be a mere “slap on the wrist” for the employer who is only assessed $500, but not the employee.

“Giving a lot of thought to this first offense, to me it seemed like we maybe got this backwards at least from a philosophical standpoint. If somebody has the training, they know that it’s wrong to sell to that minor. I feel like that’s the person that should be given the fine,” Odermann said. “And we should maybe have a 30-day probation area period where someone can get that training to get that card, license or certificate … Because if I’m new to the job and we do a compliance check on the third day I’m on the job and I haven’t had the training yet, why should I incur a $500 fine on my employer when someone that knows how to serve tobacco and sell it that has gone through this training just gets a written warning?”

Wenko said that she would look at things on a case-by-case basis.

“I think you have to look at them as two different avenues. There’s the issue with the employee and there’s the issue with the employer licensee. (An) employee in the event that they sell to a minor is going to be cited as a class B misdemeanor selling to a minor. That is a separate part of the city’s code, and we deal with them in city court through the criminal process,” she said.

Odermann motioned to approve the ordinance amendment, with a second from Commissioner Nicole Wolla. In a roll-call vote, the motion unanimously passed 4-0.