Worthington City Council members are poised to consider an ordinance that would enact a "Tobacco 21" law that would mirror legislation in Columbus and would be implemented by Columbus Public Health.
City leaders have been looking into the potential for a tobacco-related law change since September, when Ethan Barnhardt, an intern in the city manager's office, was tasked with heading the project.
When Barnhardt presented the idea to City Council in September, he was met with agreement, and council members directed city staff members to research how other cities have implemented their versions of Tobacco 21, a national campaign to raise the minimum age for tobacco and nicotine sales to 21. Some central Ohio cities with their own versions of the law are Columbus, Dublin, Grandview Heights, New Albany, Powell and Westerville.
When research was presented to City Council on April 9, members once again approved of the idea and directed city officials to draft an ordinance for a public hearing. The hearing has not been scheduled.
"If somebody is of age to buy alcohol, they should be able to buy cigarettes," City Council President Bonnie Michael said. "But if they aren't of the age to buy alcohol, they shouldn't buy cigarettes. They're very harmful and addictive, so I support Tobacco 21."
The primary difference between Worthington and most other communities who have adopted tobacco-related laws is that Worthington is served by Columbus Public Health, which means the department can take a hands-on approach rather than leave Worthington to draft, implement and enforce a law on its own, she said.
"Worthington is unlike those other communities in the area, in that we are the only ones that have a working relationship with Columbus Public Health," Michael said. "So for this to be implemented, Columbus Public Health would just implement it like they've implemented it in Columbus. ... So that makes it even easier for the city of Worthington."
Some have opted to take a criminal approach for Tobacco 21 laws, charging those who sell tobacco to people under 21 or those who are in possession of tobacco under the age of 21.
Others, like Columbus, prefer to take a licensing approach.
Rather than charging businesses or individuals with crimes, they issue licenses to businesses that sell tobacco and reserve the right to fine the businesses or even remove those licenses if they are caught selling to people under 21.
That's the approach Columbus Public Health would adopt for the city, Worthington Division of Police Chief Jerry Strait said.
"It looks like it's more about eliminating it at its source," he said. "By eliminating it at the source, hopefully you're keeping it out of the hands of kids."
Strait said he knows, however, that no law completely would eliminate underage smoking. He said police would still stay on top of anyone providing minors with tobacco.
"We all know where there's a will there's a way, and they might get around it," he said. "Ultimately, our goal is to keep them safe and not get them in the habit."
Worthington has an annual contract with Columbus Public Health (multiple city officials said the arrangement has been ongoing for "many years," but they could not provide a precise date for when it began), and it is renewed each year for a variety of functions, including environmental-health services, food and pool licensing, community-health services and communicable-disease and comprehensive sexual-health services, according to city documents.
When the contract was renewed in December, the city agreed to pay $63,000 in four payments of $15,750 during 2018.