Tobacco retail licensing may soon be required in Columbia

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Columbia - The Columbia and Boone County Board of Health may change city code to require licensing of tobacco retailers.

"Licensing is a very basic first step. It opens the doors for other possible interventions so that we can regulate and monitor and manage how tobacco is distributed in the community," Ward 2 Council Member Michael Trapp said. 

Currently, Columbia tobacco retailers are not required to license their tobacco. 

Trapp said Columbia Police currently do not have the resources to fully enforce the 21 tobacco code, making it harder for police to track if people under 21 are being sold tobacco products. 

"As a city we don't have any enforcement measure to stop someone who is selling tobacco to young people to be able to intervene,"Trapp said. 

Trapp said by working on enforcement, the ultimate goal is to limit youth access to tobacco. 

"The reason that we passed tobacco 21 is less geared towards the 19 and 20-year-olds, as it is gears towards the younger teenagers who might have a friend who is 18 but unlikely to have a friend who is 21," Trapp said. "We know most young people get tobacco from their friends."

Bella Gevhardt, Columbia resident and smoker, doesn't think passing more ordinances is the answer. 

"I think passing extra restrictions on who can sell tobacco is good, but I don't think more restrictions are going to be necessarily beneficial," Gevhardt said. "People are going to find a way to smoke if they want to." 

Trapp said the only tobacco enforcement taking place is through the FDA. He said the goal is to create an environment to enforce regulations. 

"From anecdotal reports that I have heard, other retailers have not been compliant," Trapp said. "When people are not, then we have to look at upping our enforcement game." 

According to Tobacco Retail Licensing on the city's website, tobacco retail licensing: 

  • Identifies businesses selling tobacco. 
  • Provides funding for enforcement of local tobacco ordinances. 
  • Gives the ability to suspend or revoke license if a retailer is violating laws. 
  • Allows control over where the product can be sold. 
  • Can place restrictions on tobacco marketing. 
  • Is endorsed by the Healthy Lifestyles Action Team. 

The Columbia and Boone County Board of Health is seeking the public's input by holding a meeting about the potential tobacco regulations. 

Gevhardt said she's felt like the public's opinion wasn't heard in the past with city tobacco laws and still doesn't think people know about chances to speak up. 

"I think that any public forum is helpful for the community just so everyone can get their voice heard, but I don't think they're well publicized enough for the people that really care about this issue to know," Gevhardt said. 

Information about the meeting can be found here.