Upper Arlington News

City may ban sale of e-cigarettes to minors


Upper Arlington City Council is considering a local ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, a move that has not been taken by the state or federal governments.

The Upper Arlington City Attorney's Office has proposed placing the same restrictions against the sale and possession of e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine to people younger than 18 as those on the books for traditional cigarettes and tobacco products.

The move comes amid calls from parents in the community and is an attempt to keep kids from picking up the smoking habit.

"It is a direct response to concerns that have been raised among parents in the community," Assistant City Attorney Thad Boggs said. "These are largely unregulated nicotine-delivery devices."

To date, the U.S. Congress has not regulated the sale or marketing of e-cigarettes or the liquid used to inhale vaporized nicotine.

A state prohibition is pending in the Ohio Senate, after it was passed by Ohio House of Representatives members last November.

In the meantime, both e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine -- which proponents argue are healthier alternatives to traditional cigarettes and tobacco products -- can be legally sold to anyone, regardless of age.

Boggs said his office, led by City Attorney Jeanine Hummer, wants to prevent minors from becoming addicted to nicotine. He added e-cigarettes can be a "gateway to more traditional smoking."

Upper Arlington City Council heard a first reading of the ordinance Monday, Jan. 27. It could be approved as soon as Feb. 10.

According to the proposal, anyone found to have sold e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine to a minor in Upper Arlington either locally or via the Internet would face a fine of $250 and up to 30 days in jail.

If the seller has a previous conviction for any of those offenses, he or she would face a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.

Additionally, any "open display unit" through which e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine is sold to a minor could be seized by the city.

Unless accompanied by a parent, any minor found in possession of an e-cigarette or liquid nicotine could be ordered to complete smoking education or treatment programs and be subject to a fine of up to $100.

Underage offenders also could be required to perform up to 20 hours of community service and could have driving privileges revoked for 30 days.

"It would be the same penalty as if the minor was using a conventional cigarette," Boggs said.

According to a staff report prepared for council by Boggs and Hummer, the sale of e-cigarettes is a $1.7-billion industry in the U.S. and studies show e-cigarettes "appeal to young users through their marketing and flavors."

The report also says other states have begun to ban e-cigarette and liquid nicotine sales to minors; the local proposal draws from an Illinois prohibition.

"The proposed ordinance ... places Upper Arlington ahead of the curve by restricting minors' access to e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine, " the report stated.

In addition to prohibiting sales to minors, the proposal also would create penalties for anyone -- minors or adults -- found to be using an e-cigarette to inhale illegal drugs.

If used for those purposes, the offender could be charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and, if convicted, could face up to a $1,000 fine and 180 days in jail.