HUDSON — Despite being encouraged by the mayor to delay action, council last week rejected legislation that would have prohibited city retailers from selling tobacco products to anyone younger than 21 years.

The minimum age to purchase tobacco products in Hudson is 18 years and will remain so.

Council defeated the proposal by a 4-1 vote on Feb. 5. Council member Dr. J. Daniel Williams was the only member who voted in favor of the legislation. Council President Bill Wooldredge was absent.

The legislation, which is being promoted through the Tobacco 21 initiative by Summit County Public Health, would have made it illegal for retailers in Hudson to sell tobacco products like cigarettes and vape pens to anyone younger than 21. Businesses would have received a warning for a first offense, but would have been subject to fines on subsequent offenses.

Council had a first reading on the legislation Feb. 5. Council member Hal DeSaussure motioned to suspend the rules and to pass the measure, but said he was doing that so he could voice his opposition.

“I understand the purpose behind this legislation,” said DeSaussure. “I just don’t think this is the effective way to do it.”

He objected to using cities’ home rule authority in this manner.

“I just don’t think that trying to affect a statewide change by using individual cities’ home rule power is the way to go,” DeSaussure said. “If this was an initiative that had specific meaning to Hudson, that’s where I think we’d apply our home rule power.”

He added he felt the issue of raising the minimum tobacco sales age should be addressed by state legislators.

Mayor David Basil said he disagreed and noted the landscape had changed in the six months since the county first approached the city and encouraged officials to adopt the legislation. Since that time, he said neighboring communities have enacted the Tobacco 21 legislation. Kent, Twinsburg, Richfield, Akron, Green and Mogadore have adopted the T21 legislation, according to Summit County Public Health officials. Stow is considering the legislation.

“We are not as much of an island now as we would have been [six months ago],” said Basil.

He asked Council to postpone the vote because police and school officials, as well as citizens, were planning to attend the council meeting on Feb. 19 to discuss the proposal. Williams motioned to postpone the vote until Feb. 19, but the motion failed after no one seconded the motion.

Williams said he favored the legislation and that he wanted to postpone the vote to give officials and citizens a chance to share their thoughts.

“I understand that there are some [members] of the administration from the schools that’d like to talk to us about this,” said Williams. “I’d like to give them a chance to do that.”

Basil said he believed it was “a little bit unfortunate to take this action this evening on a first reading before the citizens have even had an opportunity to weigh in on this matter.” The mayor noted there was a presentation from county officials at a council workshop several months ago, but added that this was the first time legislation had been brought before council.

Council member Alex Kelemen said council first heard from Summit County Public Health about the proposal in September and legislation was prepared for a first reading in October, but “then it was withdrawn.”

“I am not in favor because I think this effort is mostly symbolic at the local level,” Kelemen said. “The backers admit as much, they want to run up a local ‘tally’ of communities that pass it to take momentum into a statewide ban. While I’m concerned about the health of minors, I’m unconvinced that taking away the rights of 18-20 year olds and local merchants is going to change accessibility of tobacco and vape products for minors.”

Kelemen added the issue is “far from over,” saying he and his colleagues have heard from citizens “who still want some kind of legislation passed.”

The Tobacco 21 initiative would prohibit retailers of tobacco, electronic cigarettes and nicotine products from selling them to anyone under the age of 21.

In addition, such retailers would be required to post signage declaring the new legal purchase age. There would be an education period for retailers about the age increase and they would be required to pay a $150 one-time licensing fee. Under what’s proposed, retailers who sell tobacco, e-cigarettes, vaping products or tobacco paraphernalia to minors would face a warning for a first offense, a $500 fine for a second offense, and a $1,000 fine for a third offense.

 

Reporter Ellin Walsh contributed to this story.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.