WINTERVILLE, Ga. -- Retail tobacco merchants across the country have continued to observe mounting efforts at the local levels of government since 2012 that would further regulate or ban the sale of lawful tobacco products. Usually, these local laws or ordinances attempt to mandate minimum packaging and pricing requirements for tobacco products, ban the sale of flavored-tobacco products, increase the legal purchase age for tobacco products, increase the minimum age to sell tobacco products and regulate retail-tobacco licenses via population-density requirements.
However, sometimes a novel ordinance is introduced that has not been previously seen, which is what occurred earlier this month in a small town in Georgia.
An ordinance was introduced by a member of the city council in Winterville, Ga., titled the “City of Winterville Tobacco-Free Generation Ordinance.” At first blush, this seemed like a peculiar name for a local ordinance governing the lawful sale and consumption of tobacco products. Upon close inspection, it was peculiar indeed.
The purpose for the ordinance, as stated in the formal language, was “to establish a tobacco-free generation in the city of Winterville to provide for the continued good health of the citizens of Winterville.” To achieve this stated purpose, the ordinance would ban any tobacco-sales license holder from selling tobacco products to any individual who was born on or after Jan. 1, 2000. Thus, the city of Winterville was essentially considering an ordinance that was a complete prohibition on the sale of lawful products to legal-age consumers. This type of prohibition on lawful products to legal consumers is concerning.
The city of Winterville was attempting to regulate tobacco licenses that were not granted by the city, but rather the state of Georgia. Traditionally, cities do have the authority to regulate their territory in the interest of safety, health and general welfare except where denied by law. In Georgia, the issuance of tobacco-sales licenses is controlled by the general state code, not local municipalities. Thus, passing an ordinance that would create a complete prohibition on the sale of tobacco products to legal adults in a local jurisdiction is conflicting and troublesome.
These types of local ordinances that would extinguish the rights of lawful adults to purchase and consume tobacco products now and into the future may continue to be considered in greater numbers under the banner of a “tobacco-free generation.” However, to be clear, these types of ordinances would create a complete prohibition on legal products to lawful adults and should be reacted to with grave concern given the failed experiment on the prohibition of alcohol that our country previously endured.
The ordinance in Winterville was recently rejected by the city council on a 3-1 vote. Prior to the vote, NATO submitted a letter to the council informing them that their proposed ordinance conflicted with Georgia state law. That communication likely had an influence in the final city council vote to not pass the ordinance.