Salt Lake County seeks more control over tobacco shops

Published: Monday, Aug. 13 2012 7:38 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE COUNTY — "Tobacco specialty businesses" would be subject to specific licensure requirements under an ordinance to be considered by the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday.

The ordinance, intended to bring the county in compliance with a new state law calling for specific licenses for tobacco specialty businesses, gives regulators authority to suspend or revoke business licenses of retailers that sell cigarettes or smokeless tobacco to minors, which is prohibited under federal law.

The ordinance also would take aim at sales of controlled substances or "imitation controlled substances," such as Spice, bath salts or other substances prohibited for sale or consumption under local, state or federal law.

Tobacco specialty businesses are defined as those that generate more than 35 percent of their total gross annual receipts from the sale of tobacco products, according to the proposed ordinance. Tobacco products include cigars, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco or any substance for a tobacco product, including flavorings or additives to tobacco.

County Councilman Steve DeBry said tobacco specialty businesses that follow laws and ordinances regarding the sale of tobacco products will not be affected by the proposed ordinances.

But the ordinance enables law enforcement and licensing officials to act against those "engaging in unlawful activity," he said. 

"Bad actors who open tobacco shops are not going to be able to keep their 'tobacco specialty license' if they violate the law," DeBry said. 

The proposed ordinance would enable regulators to revoke or suspend a license if a licensee refuses to allow law enforcement officers or licensure officials from inspecting or taking a sample of a commodity for sale by the establishment.

State law, after which the ordinance was patterned, states that retail tobacco specialty businesses cannot be within 1,000 feet of a school, child care facility, church, library, public park or playground, youth center and public arcade or within 600 feet of property zoned for agriculture or residential use.

Patrick Powers of the Utah Liberty Institute said he plans to attend the council meeting to speak against the ordinance, which he views as a "slippery slope" for other businesses that may be or become politically unpopular.

He said, for example, that officials could elect to further regulate businesses that contribute to obesity such as ice cream parlors or bakeries. After all, Utahns die of heart disease at greater rates than any other cause, he said.

Such ordinances tend to infringe on private property laws for a perceived public benefit, he said. 

"We (politicians) can gain politial points by tightening our grip on these types of industries and 'those' type of people," Powers said.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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