Store clerks and owners who sell tobacco to people not old enough to purchase it may soon face more severe consequences in St. Charles.
City police conduct a minimum of three tobacco compliance stings on each tobacco retailer in the city every year. The operations involve sending an underage person into the store to buy a tobacco item. If successful, the clerk who sold the tobacco is cited. The owner of the store receives little to no punishment.
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Mayor Ray Rogina is interested in adding more accountability to the process. He introduced a plan to expand the authority of the city's Liquor Control Commission, a body Rogina put in place after taking office.
If the plan comes to fruition, the liquor commission would also review tobacco violations in the city. That would allow anyone cited to contest the citation before the commission. It would also open the door to punishment for shop owners.
The city charges tobacco retailers a $50 annual fee for a tobacco license. Rogina indicated shop owners found in violation could find themselves with a suspended or revoked tobacco license if the commission warrants.
A higher tobacco licensing fee is also in the offing. Interim Police Chief Steve Huffman said the current fee isn't enough to finance background checks for licensees.
A specific increase was not discussed by the commission Monday night, but Huffman said he will likely model suggested changes off the licensing structure that exists in Wheaton. Likewise, the fine for violations is also likely to increase.
Commissioner Maureen Lewis said she supports a higher fine while noting the price of cigarettes is not much cheaper than the license to sell them in the city.
Rogina said any ordinance change would also cover pipe and chewing tobacco. Further research is necessary to see what authority the city has to regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes.
Rogina said the commission will take the next month or two to review possible changes before bringing them to the full city council for a vote.
The impact of the possible changes may not be dramatic, at least in terms of punishments for violations. Huffman said while there are a handful of violations every year, the vast majority of tobacco retailers maintain compliance with the law.