Northglenn will tighten the belt on tobacco retailers to curb teen vaping.
The City council approved new regulations for businesses that sell tobacco products with a 7 to 2 vote at a Dec. 14 meeting. Council voted for the new licensing program after receiving pushback from tobacco and convenience store industry proponents.
The regulations will make it illegal for businesses to sell tobacco products to anyone under 21. Federal law already raised the minimum age limit to 21 in 2019. The new city regulations, however, ensure greater local compliance.
The regulations also require strict ID checks, impose penalty fees for businesses in violation, and prohibits new retailers from being within 500 feet of schools, parks and public recreation areas. Most of the regulations apply to tobacco retailers, not those purchasing the products. However, one regulation raises the municipal code’s minimum age for unlawful possession or consumption of tobacco to 21.
Council’s vote did not establish the precise penalty fees; that will be decided at a future meeting. A draft penalty fee schedule shows $1,000 increases for each violation. That’s in addition to the annual licensing fee that businesses will pay.
Before the council voted on the ordinance, various representatives spoke against the fees during the meeting’s public hearing portion. “We feel the fees and penalties should be reasonable and consistent with the other localities in the region,” said Nancy Riggs, a spokesperson for United Pacific, which owns gas stations in Northglenn. Thomas Bryant, executive director and legal counsel of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, echoed Riggs. “These penalties are by far one of the highest schedules of fines and suspension penalties we have ever seen,” Bryant said.
Riggs and Bryant argued that gas stations and convenience stores have earned less revenue this year because more people are staying home. The penalties would be financially crippling, they said.
Even though councilors didn’t vote on the fee schedule, the concern about fees swayed Councilwoman Becky Brown’s vote. “I’m very disappointed that we’re not taking businesses into any consideration because tobacco is such an evil product,” she said, with sarcasm, before voting no. Councilwoman Joyce Downing joined Brown, articulating similar reasons.
An equal number of councilors expressed a different opinion. “If they (businesses) don’t sell to underage people, then they don’t have to pay the fee,” said Councilwoman Katherine Goff, “Teenage vaping has been increasing crazily … I think we seriously need some ways to discourage that.” The ordinance applies to all tobacco products, but several councilors made it clear the ordinance is targeting teen vaping.
Councilwoman Julie Duran Mullica also supported the fees, saying they help pay for enforcement. She said, “We want to make sure we’re keeping tobacco out of the hands of youth and compliance checks is our best tool to do that.”