An ordinance regarding people under 21 years of age being prohibited from purchasing tobacco products was postponed at Tuesday’s Branson Board of Aldermen meeting.
The proposed ordinance would amend Chapter 58 of the Branson Municipal Code pertaining to persons under 21 years of age by prohibiting them from the purchase of tobacco products and prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to persons under 21 years old.
Although this ordinance would mirror a federal law passed Dec. 20, 2019, there are some stricter guidelines attached to it.
When President Donald Trump signed H.R. 1865, it amended the Appropriations Act, making it illegal for any retailer to sell a tobacco product to anyone younger than 21.
The proposed Branson ordinance prohibits those under the age of 21 from purchasing or possessing tobacco products, alternative nicotine products or vapor products. The ordinance also says anyone who violates the provisions will be penalized.
“Does this go beyond what the federal government has mandated? Yes,” said Chris Lebeck, Branson city attorney, in an interview on Thursday. “The federal government just says you can’t sell. This goes on, before it says you can’t provide, you can’t distribute, you can’t deliver and then it addresses some of the Tobacco 21 concerns that those advocacy groups have.”
The Revised Statutes of Missouri Ch. 479 under Conditions, states municipal ordinance violations is $200 for the first violation, with costs rising each additional time the ordinance is violated. The court will not sentence anyone to confinement unless the violation involves alcohol or controlled substances, the violation endangers the health or welfare of others, or the person eludes or gives false information to a law enforcement officer.
According to Branson Tri-Lakes News archives, the Branson aldermen passed an ordinance (with Mayor Edd Akers casting a tie-breaking vote) in June 2019 that included vaping rules for minors. This amendment bars minors from purchasing or possessing tobacco, nicotine or vapor products and prohibits stores from selling these products to minors. This ordinance that is already in place holds the same enforcement and punishment as the proposed ordinance for those under the age of 21.
Under Sec. 1-13 of the Branson Code of Ordinances, anyone who violates this ordinance would be guilty of a misdemeanor and will be issued a fine not exceeding $500, a jail sentence not to exceed 90 days or both unless a lesser penalty is specifically provided by the ordinance or is required by state law (like probation and community service).
“There’s flexibility built into the ordinance, in the sense that it’s not just if you do X then Y happens,” said Lebeck. “Again there’s still due process, there’s still the rights in court, the rights of the accused. They can still have their day in court and contest it.
“Advocacy groups wish to treat it like we treat alcohol – require posting of signs, requiring compliance checks, permitting, all sorts of additional layers of checks on the actual retailers. A lot of the desires from these advocacy groups is, they want us to ramp up the retail side and then minimize the under 21 in possession side because their belief is that fines and incarceration, even though we can’t do that, is not going to solve that problem.”
According to Lebeck, the point of the ordinances is not to fine the juveniles or punish them, but to divert them into a cessation program (a four-hour, online course).
“Our intent is to use health officials to present this in a context of, if the board decides to do it, that we will use our courts to help facilitate tobacco treatment,” said Lebeck.
According to the proposed ordinance, any of these products in the possession of someone under 21 will be confiscated. A tobacco education class will be in the cards for those who find themselves in violation of the ordinance after the first offense.