After months of discussion, Westerville has chosen not to implement a ban on tobacco sales to people under age 21.

Westerville City Council has spent much of 2018 listening to input from staff, its own members and others on the topic of legislation inspired by Tobacco 21, an initiative spearheaded by the Columbus Department of Health that prohibits tobacco sales, inclusive of all products and paraphernalia including hookah, e-cigarettes, pipes, rolling papers, etc. to anyone under the age of 21 in Columbus.

On Dec. 12, 2016, Columbus City Council passed a ordinance that gave authority to Columbus Public Health to regulate tobacco and paraphernalia retailers by licensing and enforcing civil fines associated with Tobacco 21.

In Columbus, the law requires tobacco retailers to obtain and retain a Retail Tobacco Sales License, administered by Environmental Health at CPH; require identification for all tobacco and paraphernalia sales up to age 30; prohibits the sale of tobacco and paraphernalia through vending machines; and retains police enforcement authority for criminal offenses related to tobacco sales.

Several other central Ohio communities have been discussing whether to follow suit in some fashion.

But after deliberating on the topic, City Manager David Collinsworth said the city's legal team determined the best way to move forward was to push for state legislation rather than attempt to put local laws in place.

"Based upon some further evaluation of these options, it became apparent to us that there is, principally, a preemption in state law that this is an area of legislation that the state has taken out of our local control in regulating," he said.

Instead of local laws, the city will only issue a resolution in "support" of the Tobacco 21 concept that Collinsworth said he hopes will "urge" the state to act.

"This would essentially be a different way of getting at the same objective, but doing so in a way that would be consistent with the state's preemption on this particular matter," he said.

In May, Worthington passed a law that put a system of licensing in place for retailers to sell tobacco products. If they are caught selling to people under 21, they can have their license revoked.

In passing the change, Worthington joined Bexley, Columbus, Dublin, Grandview Heights, New Albany, Powell and Upper Arlington as communities with a tobacco minimum age of 21.

Council Chairman Mike Heyeck acknowledged those other communities and their stances, but expressed his support for the findings of the city's legal team.

"I know our citizens who have been seeing others pass laws like this, and I really appreciate our law department recognizing that we do have state law that intercedes here," he said.

Heyeck also said those in favor of Tobacco 21 laws should prefer a statewide approach.

"If this is the way to go, I think enacting it through state law is probably the best thing to do rather than (someone) going three miles in the row to some township and getting cigarettes instead of the city of Westerville," he said.

Only Councilman Tim Davey was against the idea altogether.

He said he felt the main motivation for banning tobacco for those under 21 was to prevent them from giving it to those younger than 21, which he said was a "slippery slope."

"What else are we going to try to predict someone might do for someone else and so we need to take away their right today?" he said. "I'm not for tobacco at all, but it's a legal product and these are legal adults. We can't infantilize this group of people. They're adults."

Council passed the resolution of support by a vote of 6-1, with Davey the only council member in opposition.

For more information, go to westerville.org.

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