With a new tobacco enforcement officer on the streets, those who sell tobacco and vaping products to minors are now under tighter scrutiny.
The Columbia/Boone County Public Health & Human Services Department hired its first tobacco enforcement and education officer, Public Health Promotion Supervisor Michelle Shikles confirmed Thursday.
Julie Sears, who was hired this week, will conduct compliance checks in Columbia, ensuring that local businesses are not selling tobacco or vaping products to anyone under the age of 21, in line with city ordinances.
The compliance process includes sending an underage person into a business in an attempt to illegally buy tobacco or vaping products, Shikles confirmed.
“It’s the same process we do for alcohol here locally and what the FDA does for tobacco as well,” Shikles said.
In case of a violation, the offending business will receive a summons and fines between $200 and $1,000.
Shikles clarified that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration differs from Columbia in that the FDA defines underage as under age 18, while Columbia defines underage as younger than 21.
Retailers of tobacco and vaping products are required to check IDs in Columbia, according to city ordinance.
The Health Department submitted a report to the Columbia City Council in November, asking the council for a complete moratorium on the sale of tobacco and vaping products within city limits. Its report included the results of the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, which found that use of e-cigarettes rose 78% among high school students and 48% among middle school students between 2017 and 2018.
Council members expressed some support for a more in-depth report on the issue, rather than another ordinance recommendation.
These city ordinances have been part of city code for several years. The Tobacco 21 ordinance was implemented in Columbia in December 2014, banning the sale of tobacco and vaping products to anyone under 21.
Sears also continues to be employed by Phoenix Programs, a local addiction recovery center. Phoenix Programs declined to comment on Sears’ employment status.
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