Upper Arlington News

Council postpones e-cigarette legislation

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Upper Arlington City Council recently postponed consideration of a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors as a similar measure moves through the Ohio General Assembly.

Poised to become the first community in the state to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to those under age 18, Upper Arlington officials decided, at least temporarily, to take a pause.

Council last month held a first reading on legislation to apply 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 measure could have been passed Feb. 10, but members chose to postpone a final vote until Monday, Feb. 24.

The local ban was proposed by the Upper Arlington City Attorney's Office, reportedly amid calls from parents in the community and as an attempt to keep kids from picking up the smoking habit.

Last week, Assistant City Attorney Thad Boggs said council chose to wait because legislation mandating a statewide ban was gaining traction.

"Since it looked like that was going to be done so quickly, council wanted to see (the state's) final version go through," Boggs said.

Already approved by the Ohio House of Representatives, House Bill 144, which would prohibit minors from buying e-cigarettes, was passed Feb. 12 by the Ohio Senate. The legislation was sent back to the House so members can consider amendments made by the Senate.

"Basically, we just have to vote to concur on their amendments," said Brad Young, Ohio House clerk. "We usually are able to come to some agreements on bills that have been modified.

"Any time the House is in session, we could read that message saying what changes they made and take that vote. The next session of the House is Wednesday (Feb. 19)."

As proposed by the city attorney's office, the local legislation stipulates that 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.

Under the city's proposed legislation, 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 their driving privileges revoked for 30 days, the same penalties already on city books for underage use of conventional cigarettes.

The Upper Arlington proposal differs from the state legislation because it would additionally 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.

"It's considered drug paraphernalia only when misused or adapted with the intent of ingesting a controlled substance," Boggs said.

Although Boggs said his office and the Upper Arlington Police Division haven't finalized protocol for monitoring and enforcing a local e-cigarette ban, he said the city still should adopt its own ordinance even if a state law is enacted.

"Ultimately, it will be our police who will be enforcing it and who can devote attention to it that our county sheriff's office won't be able to provide," he said. "When we have a local ordinance, we have local control and local priority."

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