Crammed in the middle of a packed agenda, the Flagstaff City Council decisively moved toward prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to all people under 21 years old inside city limits.
Following just a short discussion among its members, the Council unanimously voted to approve the ordinance during Tuesday night’s meeting. The approval included an amendment to educate those affected by the ordinance on its purpose.
“We were hoping for a county solution where we could opt in, but that didn’t happen. With us being patient, we were hoping for a state solution and that didn’t happen either,” Councilmember Charlie Odegaard said. “So here we are tonight offering a local solution.”
The ordinance is the just the latest in Flagstaff’s attempts to increase oversight of tobacco use. In 2017, the council approved the ban of smoking in public places. The ban extended to vaping and electronic cigarettes this past December.
Mark Miller from the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, which represents grocery and convenience stores, said the organization supports raising the tobacco age to 21 at a state or even federal level. However, the group worried about the difficulty of training employees who work at multiple locations with potentially different laws.
Miller and other speakers against the ordinance cited the loss of tax dollars the city would suffer, as well as the ease for consumers to still buy tobacco products either on county land or the reservations.
Councilmember Austin Aslan dismissed the concerns during his comments on the dais, saying any city is close to a county and that would be a problem anywhere.
“People who really want to find their tobacco are still going to have the opportunity to do that. But I am not going to allow the idea that this is somehow going to affect our tax base to hijack what’s right and what’s wrong,” Aslan said.
“We should not be raising money off of the tarred innards of our youth’s lungs,” Aslan added.
Fines for retailers who violate the ordinance will begin at a fine of no less than $500 for the first incident. A second violation within 36 days would result in a fine of no less than $750 as well as being prohibited from selling tobacco products for a minimum of seven days. A third violation within 36 days increases the punishment to $1,000 and 30 days, and a fourth violation in the time period would be $1,000 and three years.
The ordinance also requires tobacco retailers to obtain and display a tobacco retail sales license. City attorney Sterling Solomon said the application process and fee amounts will be established in the future by city staff.
Solomon added that the fees will come before council for approval later this fall if the ordinance is adopted and stakeholders would be welcome to be a part of the process going forward. A public hearing will be held on July 2 before a final vote and read of the ordinance.