Ohio law says anyone over the age of 18 can buy and smoke tobacco. Under a new law just passed by Grandview city council, young adults 18 to 21 can now be ticketed by the Grandview cops. According to a group quoted in a Dispatch story, this will make Grandview the first city in the state to criminalize tobacco use for that age group.
The law was created to follow the actions of a number of other central Ohio cities, like Upper Arlington and Bexley, who had passed laws in June that made sale of tobacco products to those under 21 illegal. However, unlike those laws, Grandview Heights has a part of the new smoking ban that can result in charges for both the shopkeeper and the under 21 patron who buys the tobacco.
According to Councilman Ed Hastie, who voted against the law, not only the act of buying the tobacco is illegal, but any possession by an under 21 resident. This could lead to the police stopping 18 year olds who are seen smoking, searching them (because the act of smoking would be illegal and allow the police to detain and search), then if they found cigarettes they can issue a ticket that might result in paying a fine of $100 and performing 20 hours of community service.
A second Dispatch story said that the council is “at most, asking for those charged to be sent to a brief anti-smoking class”. But the law is still on the books as written, allowing stiffer sentencing.
I asked city council member Chris Smith to respond to questions about spending police resources chasing down kids for smoking. I also questioned if the latitude council is giving the prosecutor will mean that poor and brown kids will get charged, while white kids with parents who hire lawyers will be allowed to walk away from charges.
Words from Mr Smith
First of all, this ordinance was formulated and passed as a health policy issue to deter people 18-20 from tobacco use. If we can deter people at that age from tobacco use, that may lead to less addition, and in turn, less health problems, lower health care costs, etc.
This was not meant to divert police resources and time. I would imagine that enforcement would be akin to illegal alcohol sales where there are reportings and complaints of underage sales at a particular store which eventually is investigated. Regarding sanctions and penalties, it is worth noting that under current law, underage alcohol consumption is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months; a much greater penalty than an unclassified misdemeanor. It is my belief that sanctions at both the vendor level (i.e., store owner) and the consumer is a more fair and broader approach to achieving a public policy goal.
No I do not believe that prosecutorial discretion is a vehicle to open the door for racial and income inequality. We have spoken with the prosecutor for Grandview Heights today, and what is envisioned is recommending a sanction of a smoking cessation/ education program for someone 18-20 years of age, at the harshest. It is not our policy goal to slap fines on young adults or have the police round up a bunch of 18-20 year olds and send them to mayor’s court. What you are describing with respect to racial and social injustice, unfortunately, is a widespread problem in our criminal justice system. It is a reason to stop inequalities and injustices in the criminal justice system rather than to provide reasoning not to help solve a public policy problem.
It is not the case that Grandview is the only municipality to do this. As you have probably noted in the Dispatch article, Upper Arlington and Bexley have passed similar ordinances, and from what I understand, Columbus is seriously considering doing so as well. That will provide a much more vast geographical area that will enforce this policy, making it more effective than symbolic.
I realize that I am the sponsor of this ordinance. My role with this legislation is more limited, however. When a representative from Tobacco 21 spoke to council in July, I was actually out of town. A colleague of mine on council asked our city attorney to draft legislation. As Safety Committee Chair, the fact that I did agree with the policy and that I had the belief that a majority of council favored the legislation (which was made evident last night with the 6-1 vote), I agreed to be the sponsor and see it through to passage. Despite my getting various emails and calls last night and today, I really did not play such an active advocacy role with this.
It is worth noting that I did amend the ordinance in committee to make it more fair: originally, the criminal standard for sales was strict liability. I amended the legislation to create an affirmative defense for businesses when they reasonably rely on a valid license or identification card which is not the property of the purchaser. I thought strict liability in that circumstance was vastly unfair.
There have been various complaints on social media. I appreciate your input, as always. However, it is worth noting that there was a public hearing on this ordinance as well as three readings. The only person to voice any objection or opposition was my colleague, Ed Hastie. At least three people came in during the hearing and readings to voice support.
I hope this answered your questions and addressed your concerns. Please let me know if I can answer any more. Thanks.
Chris Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
Grandview City Council
I’m all for prosecutorial discretion, as opposed to brain-dead mandatory minimum and three strike laws. But here is an idea – if the intent is to never charge 18 year olds with the full force of the $100 fine and community service, how about the council re-hearing the ordnance, and removing those parts of the law? I wonder if any council member understands what a $100 fine means to a kid who is working for minimum wage?
And then while they are re-examining the effect a law like this can have, they might consider that they have gone too far with expecting the police to be the social agents in charge of keeping kids away from tobacco. There are too many ways already for the young to be made into criminals, with life long effects caused by zealous prosecution and fines. Maybe the police shouldn’t be the tool that is used for every problem we have with those darn kids?
After a second reading – wow, that section where Smith is saying he was out of town when the action happened, and he was just the
sucker committee head who didn’t have much to do the the ordinance? Can you feel the flop sweat dripping?
The Flop Sweat is spreading
(Later) There is a long article by the city council on the Grandview City Blog. It presents a long list of reasons to keep the anti-smoking ordnance in effect. Gosh, I wonder if it might have gone differently if they posted all this stuff on the blog BEFORE they took a vote. I’m still reading a lot of people who were totally unaware that this was in the works (including me). Maybe one of the fine council members should have though “wow, this is going to be a big shock to the city, we should do more to publicize our plans”.
From the post – Councilmember Kearns says “It is not fair to make a law that only penalizes the seller with no opportunity for enforcement against the purchaser or user.” Humm. Fair? Maybe not, but again it is using the police to enforce a social health issue. We have lots of police, and lots of laws, and we are filling up the jails. Do we need another law?
And now that I read the post again, I see that it has a bald face lie. It says, “Grandview Heights City Council joined other central Ohio cities Bexley and Upper Arlington this week in raising the legal age of tobacco product sales and use from 18 to 21 at Monday evening’s City Council meeting.” No. False. Read the darn links, those cities made sales to under 18 illegal, not use. This is getting pathetic. I don’t know who wrote that post (it quotes a couple of council members, as though it were an interview), but the council is responsible for the blog. I think there are a bunch of council members who are going to be leaving office this November, and others who should follow them.
(later) A veto by the mayor forced the council to take the matter back up under consideration.