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An expected lengthy debate over the merits of the city of Salem, Ill.'s ordinance regulating the sale of tobacco products did not materialize during a recent City Council meeting.
In June, Councilman Joe Hotze suggested the city ordinance that requires tobacco retailers to have a city-issued license to sell cigarettes and sets penalities for underage sales, because it is not business-friendly and because there is already a state law prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to persons younger than 18, according to a report in the Salem Times Commoner.
Last week, however, Hotze offered a motion changing a portion of the ordinance restricting the age of clerks selling tobacco products. He suggested changing the minimum age from 16 to 18, in order to allow area high-school students to have access to more jobs.
In addition, he suggested lowering the first two levels of fines for clerks cited for selling to minors. On a first offense, the fine was lowered from $100 to $50. The fine for a second offense was lowered from $200 to $100.
Hotze told the council that he had read several articles given to him by Mayor Leonard Ferguson, a supporter of the ordinance. He also noted that in speaking with representatives of the Salem Police Department, he found that the city has done a good job trying to educate business owners about the ordinance and the need to comply.
The police department held a breakfast meeting specifically for the area tobacco retailers to discuss the ordinance and what needed to be done to comply. However, only one business owner showed up at the meeting.
Hotze noted the businesses were not being treated unfairly and the ordinance did not need to be abolished, only slightly changed.
Councilman David Black, however, disagreed and felt that the ordinance was unfair to business owners. “I don’t feel the owner should be held responsible for some individual that they hire,” said Black. “That person is an individual and they should accept responsibility for what they do. I don’t believe that the owners can actually change what that individual is going to do.”
Black added that the businesses should be required to train their employees about the ordinance requirements, but the business owners should not be held responsible if their employees violate the ordinance.
Councilman Harold Blank agreed with Black, until he learned that only one business owner attended the breakfast meeting held by the police department to discuss the ordinance.
The motion by Hotze passed by a vote of four to one, with Hotze, Councilman Tom Carr, Blank and Ferguson voting in favor of the changes and Black voting against the changes.