Tougher tobacco laws possible for Columbia

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COLUMBIA – City council members are considering tougher regulations on tobacco sales in Columbia.

At their last meeting, council members asked city staff to draft legislation for a license retailers would need to sell tobacco.

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said he supports this idea, citing his personal experience as a reason this license is necessary.

“As someone who started smoking at 13 or 14 with very lax regulation and access to tobacco for the teenagers…I understand what a benefit it is to keep teenagers and young people away from tobacco,” he said.

In December 2014, the city council became the first in Missouri to restrict the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes to anyone younger than 21. In Thomas’ opinion, the law, Tobacco 21, was the right idea, but hasn’t had the intended effect.

“We have a couple of challenges with it,” he said. “We don’t have police resources to enforce it properly. “

Thomas said the police department is too short on funds to properly enforce Tobacco 21. He said the sale of licenses would lessen the burden on the police.

“The licensing would provide a revenue stream, that would enable our police department to put time and resources into the spot checks at convenient stores and other vendors to ensure that the law is being obeyed,” he said.

Thomas said this plan is just now in the works, and could be several months before the public gets their say. He doesn’t expect there to be backlash against the proposal.

“Other than the retail industry itself, I’m not sure it’ll be quite so controversial,” he said.

Several tobacco shops across Columbia were unavailable for comment.