MUNROE FALLS — Even though a state law took effect in October 2019 that raised the legal age to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21, the city March 3 passed the Summit County Public Health’s Tobacco 21 legislation.

Council members Mike Barnes and Frank Larson voted against the legislation in a 4 to 2 vote. 

Barnes said it was a feel-good legislation to prevent kids from vaping or smoking but the state could have enforced it. 

"The state didn’t think this was big enough issue to put teeth in it so they kicked it down to us to enforce it," Barnes said.

Law Director Tom Kostoff said the legislation is for a civil penalty, not criminal, and council can repeal the law if they determine legislation is no longer appropriate.

Council member Chris Ritzinger said the state passed the law but is allowing the county to enforce it.

"The state didn’t enforce it, so we will," Ritzinger said. "It’s the same as public smoking. The Health Department covers it, and they enforce it."

Kostoff agreed and said it is a health issue and the health department looks into it.

Council member Jim Iona said all Munroe Falls businesses are legitimate, they don’t want any problems and will obey the law.

Cory Kendrick, policy and legislative affairs manager for Summit County Public Health (SCPH), explained the proposal to city council at a February committee meeting.

Kendrick said his agency’s legislation to change the legal age to 21 to buy tobacco and vaping products must be passed by the city to give the Summit County Combined General Health District the authority to issue fines to retailers who sell products to those under 21.

Although the state law made it illegal to sell tobacco and vaping products to people under 21, the city still needs a way to enforce it.

Since council approved the legislation, SCPH can provide civil fine enforcement services, Kendrick said. Currently, the Ohio Department of Public Safety does limited enforcement throughout the state. Local police can also choose to provide enforcement, but there is no funding available to support them.

If a business violates the law, a letter is sent out to the retailer for the first offense with the date and details of the illegal sale before a $500 fine for a second offense and a $1,000 fine for the third offense, Kendrick said. The retailer is given a civil fine but the employee and underage customer are not charged.

The same legislation was approved in 2019 by Summit County Council, Akron, Kent, Twinsburg, Mogadore, Green, Richfield and Norton, but was rejected by Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson and Stow. Summit County Council’s approval covered Bath, Boston, Copley, Coventry, Northfield Center, Richfield, Sagamore Hills, Springfield and Twinsburg townships.

On its website, Summit County Public Health officials said the state law that took effect last fall "does not supersede our existing local Tobacco 21 ordinances." The enforcement of the local Tobacco 21 ordinance is still in effect for the cities that approved it last year.

The Summit County Public Health director sent letters in November to approximately 500 retailers who sell tobacco related products in the county stating that they must check IDs before selling to anyone who might be under the age of 21.

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or lfreeman@recordpub.com.