A bill that would have required retailers to obtain permits to sell tobacco and that would have enhanced civil penalities against merchants who sell tobacco products to minors was tabled Friday by the House Health Committee because of concerns about enforcement measures in the bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Kim Burningham, R-Bountiful, the bill would have required tobacco retailers to obtain a permit to sell tobacco. Large stores would pay $100 for the permit and mom-and-pop stores would be charged $50. The permits would be renewed annually.Any store caught selling tobacco products to minors would receive a warning on the first offense. Upon the second infraction, the store would be prohibited from selling tobacco products for a week. The prohibition would be increased to 30 days upon the fourth violation. On any subsequent violations, the merchant's permit would be pulled for one year.

Stores that violate the provision would be required to post signs explaining they had violated provisions of the bill.

Jim Olsen of the Utah Retail Grocers Association said, "Why not force them to paint a scarlet `T' on their chest?"

Lobbyists for retail grocers and convenience stores said the bill would enable enforcement officers to act as "accuser, investigator, judge, jury and executioner."

The bill also calls for stores to place tobacco products behind counters, a measure Burningham said would not only help reduce theft of tobacco products but keep the product out of harm's reach.

"We're talking about a poison. The evidence is clear it's a poison. You just don't leave a point out where children can get into it," Burningham said.

Teenagers who smoke or have smoked spoke in support of the bill. "If it (tobacco) wasn't so readily available, I feel I probably wouldn't have started," said Rob Romero, a 17-year-old Highland High School student.

Rep. Walt Bain, R-Farmington, said he believes the best solution is to criminalize the sale and possession of tobacco and he introduced an amendment to that effect.

"If we're going to do it, let's do it right. Let's drive it underground like we did marijuana. Let's not Mickey Mouse around with this product," he said.

Bain's amendment would have made tobacco possession a Class A misdemeanor, and anyone caught selling tobacco could be prosecuted for a third-degree felony, similar penalities for some narcotics offenses.

The amendment died in committee.