Business interests win first round in smoking battle

Business interests win first round in smoking battle

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County and the city of Tucson will both be back to vote once against on a proposed ordinance to raise the smoking age to 21.

Pima County delayed its vote until September 17th. The city of Tucson will follow soon after that.

The ordinances are intertwined because while they both raise the smoking age to 21, the county’s ordinance contains the enforcement element.

The Pima County Health Department says it has the budget, personnel and desire to enforce the ordinance for both jurisdictions.

The city feels the same but was distressed when the county voted 3 to 2 for the delay.

While a majority of the speakers during its public hearing supported the ordinance because of health issues, many businesses opposed it because of the financial hardship it will impose.

Under the ordinance, all stores which sell tobacco and vaping products would have to pay for a $300 annual license.

The penalties for violations range from a warning on the first offense to a six month suspension and fine for a third violation.

Tobacco and tobacco products make up 90 percent of the sales for Head West tobacco store on North Campbell.

“Six months, I’d be out of a job,” said David Lundgren, the store manager.

That’s because the store would likely close its doors if it couldn’t sell for half a year.

The underage buyer, nor the store clerk would face a penalty.

That can be an issue for some large chains who have hundreds of employees and constant turnover.

Identifying minors is not always as easy as checking an ID.

“If a group of kids comes in here and one of them is 18 and says I’m buying,” Lundgren said. “I have to turn all of them away.”

That has Carlos Estrada, Business Manager for the Circle K Corporation concerned.

30 percent of their retail sales is tobacco products he told the board.

“If you lose it for six months, none of our stores will survive,” he said.

But the ordinance in some form is far from dead and could find a way to pass depending on how the enforcement provisions are rewritten.

Board Chair, Richard Elias, says that’s key.

“I hear from people that this is not a bad idea,” he said. “There are differences between us all on the implementation of it.”

How those are rewritten is still up in the air.

“There are folks who will always object to this,” said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the Pima County Medical Director. “We don’t believe we will meet everybody’s needs.”

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