Hilliard City Council is considering an ordinance that would outlaw any person under 21 from possessing an electronic smoking device.

The proposed ordinance also would establish a youth diversion-education program.

Council members could consider the legislation at 7 p.m. Monday, March 9, at the Hilliard Municipal Building, 3800 Municipal Way. It will go into committee at that meeting, according to Hilliard spokesman David Ball, and it could be forwarded for a first reading. Only two readings would be required, he said.

The legislation is intended to divert nonviolent juveniles found in possession of electronic smoking devices into an educational program to teach the health risks of vaping, according to Hilliard prosecutor Dawn Steele.

The proposal originated from discussions with the officials, the Hilliard Division of Police, Hilliard City Schools, Franklin County Public Health and other entities to address vaping by adolescents, Steele said. It also is an answer to what is lacking in state law, she said.

“Staff was asked to explore options to better address youth vaping and nicotine addiction in our community,” she said. “Staff does not feel the state legislation is strong enough to combat the vaping problems in our community.

Hilliard’s proposed law provides a “penalty” of the the diversion-education program for the use, purchase and possession of electronic smoking devices by those under 21, Steele said.

State law had removed penalties for youth possession, providing penalties only for those who furnish or sell the products, Steele said.

The new city law also would make falsification to obtain tobacco and electronic smoking devices a first-degree misdemeanor and equivalent to all other forms of falsification in Hilliard’s code, Steele said.

School district administrators, such as Hilliard Davidson High School assistant principal Joel Assenheimer, said they support the proposal.

“I’m amazed by the lack of awareness. ... The correlation just isn’t there. They say it’s not smoking,” Assenheimer said about what he hears from students who are caught vaping on school property.

On a first offense, students are given a three-day suspension that could be reduced to two days if they agree to meet with a counselor, Assenheimer said.

On a second offense, counseling is required and includes a parent or guardian, he said.

Assenheimer estimates about 40 to 50 students have been suspended annually at Davidson each of the past two years for possession of electronic smoking devices.

Still, he said, there is only so much a district can do alone, and the diversion-education program is meant to create additional enforcement and opportunity for intervention.

Staff members anticipate needing to hire a full-time youth diversion program coordinator -- either a city employee or by contract -- with a $45,000 to $60,000 annual salary, City Manager Michelle Crandall said.

But with benefits and other associated costs, Crandall estimates the program’s annual cost at about $110,000.

Each potential case is unique, but the program anticipates referrals from school resource officers or from the Hilliard Division of Police.

Police referrals from outside school buildings would become more likely because the new law would give police officers the probable cause they need to stop and questions juveniles seen vaping in public, Steele said.

Currently, juvenile possession of a device is not unlawful, so police cannot stop and question a substance inside an electronic smoking device unless other circumstances allow it, she said.

If the program coordinator finds a juvenile qualifies for the program, a process would begin for what generally is a six-month program, with two months of active requirements and four months of no criminal activity.

The program includes educational sessions for the participant and the parent or guardian, a mental-health assessment when appropriate, restitution when applicable, community service and education on underage drinking and marijuana, according to the proposed legislation.

If approved, a program coordinator could be in place and ready to launch the program by the start of the next school year in August, Steele said.

Multiple council voiced support for the program at the Feb. 24 council meeting at which it was proposed.

“The schools have asked for our help, and I applaud (Steele) for putting the proposal together,” council member Les Carrier said.

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