The Kenny Road Market is ready for the enforcement of Columbus' Tobacco 21 initiative.

Manager James Delewese said the market, 4658 Kenny Road, has stickers posted and an electronic identification-verification system at the cash register.

"It only makes sense," Delewese said of the law. "I understand the idea behind it."

In mid-April, Columbus Public Health will begin assessing fines to stores that get caught selling tobacco products to anyone younger than 21 years old, said John Richter, supervisor of the agency's food-protection program.

The health agency is in the midst of sending letters to licensed dealers informing them of Tobacco 21, enacted into law in February 2017 by the board of health, under the authority of Columbus City Council.

"We know it's a big change for them," Richter said.

Included on the list of restricted sales items are vaping liquid, e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookahs and cigars.

Columbus has more than 800 licensed sales agents over three counties, Richter said. The list ranges from major grocery chains to mom-and-pop neighborhood stores.

The deadline to comply with the licensing requirement of Tobacco 21 was Oct. 1, 2017, for a $150 fee, which is renewed annually.

Since then, Columbus Public Health has been conducting extensive outreach and sending out teams of two undercover agents -- one younger, mostly college students, and an older member of the staff -- to attempt tobacco purchases. The teams kept notes on their purchase attempts.

"Believe it or not some of them carded our (underage) workers and still sold it to them," Richter said.

He said a purchase attempt would be made at each store at least once.

As of last week, teams performed 625 buy attempts and 412 stores were compliant -- a 66 percent compliance rate.

"We were expecting the first year would be the toughest," Richter said. "That's why we did so much outreach.

"I'd say it was good for the first year. Would we like (compliance) to be higher? Sure, we would like it be much higher."

Businesses that sold tobacco to underage customers received a letter inviting them to an educational class at Columbus Public Health, 240 Parsons Ave.

Richter said the law includes verifying the age of any customer up to age 30.

"Businesses are going to be challenged to make sure each and every one of their clerks are trained," he said.

After the penalty phase kicks in, the first offense is a $500 fine. Subsequent violations are $1,000 each. All fines can be appealed, Richter said.

Repeated sales to underage buyers could result in the loss of a license to sell tobacco, he said.

"We really want everyone to be successful," Richter said. "We don't really want fines. There's no joy in that for us."

Delewese of the Kenny Road Market, which started verifying ages a month before the deadline to join Tobacco 21, said only eight to 10 regular customers were turned away from buying tobacco.

"It hasn't affected us a bit," he said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary