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Steeper penalties for selling tobacco, vape products to minors proposed

A new ordinance could increase fines for vendors caught selling tobacco products to children, including e-cigarette juices. City commissioners approved a first reading of the ordinance revising sections of the city code relating to the sale of to...

Jennifer Schaeffer, Southwestern District Health Unit, Tobacco Prevention Coordinator, advocated for approving an ordinance revising city code on selling tobacco at Tuesday's meeting of the city commissioners. Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press
Jennifer Schaeffer, Southwestern District Health Unit, Tobacco Prevention Coordinator, advocated for approving an ordinance revising city code on selling tobacco at Tuesday's meeting of the city commissioners. Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press

A new ordinance could increase fines for vendors caught selling tobacco products to children, including e-cigarette juices.

City commissioners approved a first reading of the ordinance revising sections of the city code relating to the sale of tobacco products Tuesday.

The revised ordinance explicitly states: "all licensees ... shall be responsible for the actions of their employees in regard to the sale of tobacco or tobacco-related devices ... and the sale of such an item by an employee shall be considered a sale by the license holder."

Another revision states that the clerk or employee involved in the violation "shall be personally liable to pay an administrative fee in addition to any fees imposed upon the employer or license holder."

Fines remain unchanged: $100 for a first offense, $150 and suspension of license for a second offense, and $250 and suspension for a third offense.

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A revision adds possible revocation of license with the third offense.

The section for consequences of minors purchasing tobacco products has been simplified to a municipal fine.

Under "sale of tobacco products to minors prohibited," the ordinance makes clear: "No person shall sell or dispense any e-cigarette or liquid or other materials or components ... that is characterizing the flavor of the tobacco product or vapor produced by the tobacco product."

Jennifer Schaeffer, Southwestern District Health Unit tobacco prevention coordinator, called for approving the revisions.

Schaeffer claimed tobacco use among youths nationwide has become an epidemic, reaching even Dickinson and the surrounding counties.

"(Center for Disease Control is) calling it a 78% increase in youths among high school students and 48% increase among our middle school students, which is very alarming," she said.

Schaeffer also spoke against the sale of flavored e-cigarette juices, claiming youths are drawn to flavors with familiar soda and cereal brand names.

"They do not taste like tobacco products," she said, "or smell like how we're used to having tobacco products smell."

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Heather Austin, Tobacco Free North Dakota executive director, encouraged commissioners to support the ordinance.

"Be the early leaders on an issue such as this," she said. "We do know the flavors are really what's attracting youths."

Austin explained there are no regulations against what can be put into mix-your-own e-liquids, and further advocated banning the sale of mixed-on-site products, as well.

The ordinance does not include provisions for on-site mixing.

City Attorney Jan Murtha said she was not confident such a provision could be included.

"It would be (a Food and Drug Administration) pre-emption issue," she said. "You could regulate what's sold, but not necessarily the content."

Commissioner Jason Fridrich said the ordinance's first draft provoked too many questions for him to support without first involving local vendors.

"I'm not even close to comfortable approving the first reading on this tonight, until we've had some chance to at least notify the tobacco people," he said. "This is a huge policy change."

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Commissioner Carson Steiner supported the ordinance, arguing that a second reading could be tabled until feedback was received.

"At least this would put them on notice," he said. "This will give them something to look at and say 'make changes to this' if they feel it needs changes."

Mayor Scott Decker supported increasing fines, but said he was divided, as the products can target kids, but are consumed by adults.

"There is a great need to curtail this with the youth, not only in our community, but every community," he said. "At the same time, there's a lot of questions."

Commissioner Sarah Trustem expressed similar doubts.

"We appreciate what's trying to be done here, but what are we really capable of doing that's fair and equitable to everybody? That's where these questions are arising," she said. "Alcohol is the same. They have bubblegum and different flavors, as well."

Fridrich and Trustem voted against the ordinance.

City Administrator Joe Gaa promised workshops would be held with local vendors to collect feedback on the revisions, similar to efforts made last year before the city approved a mobile home court licensing ordinance.

Decker and Fridrich volunteered to sit in on those meetings.

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