St. Charles inched closer Monday to banning the use of e-cigarettes in all the same public venues that ban regular cigarettes.
A proposal envisions fines of up to $500 for anyone caught smoking or vaping in a banned area or selling tobacco or e-cigarette products to anyone younger than 18.
St. Charles Police Chief James Keegan first suggested the e-cig ban last month. Keegan, who was hired as chief in July, developed the idea after reviewing the city's existing smoking policy and taking inspiration from Chicago. Chicago aldermen voted to ban the indoor use of electronic cigarettes in January; the ban took effect at the end of April.
The city has 31 licensed retailers of cigarette products. Keegan said about only five of them would see an additional impact from the e-cigarette ban.
Specialty shops and establishments that cater to vaping would be excluded from the indoor ban under Keegan's proposal. But they, and other tobacco and nicotine retailers, would see additional changes to their licenses that will both cost them more and penalize them directly for the first time.
For instance, the annual tobacco license fee would be $50 for over-the-counter retailers, $100 for specialty retailers and $250 for wholesalers. Also, the owners of those licenses would be subject to suspension or revocation of the license if caught selling a tobacco product to a minor.
The accompanying fine could also hit $1,000, marking the first time the license holder, not just the employee who sold the product to a minor, would be held accountable for the violation.
Mayor Ray Rogina, who would also serve as the city's chief tobacco commissioner under the proposal, welcomed the changes Monday as finally "putting teeth" into the city's tobacco laws. Keegan agreed that is the purpose of his proposal.
"We take tobacco sales and alternative tobacco sales seriously," Keegan said. "This is something we're looking for as another tool to make sure people are dotting their I's and crossing their T's in terms of who they sell to and who they don't sell to."
The city's liquor commission would gain power to review all the violations and hear any disputes from those charged with violations. The proposed city code changes must be approved by the full city council before becoming law.
When that debate occurs, Aldermen Maureen Lewis said she will push for change that would prevent anyone younger than 18 from selling tobacco products.
"I think it's confusing that a 16-year-old could work at a vaping store but they would not be allowed to smoke," Lewis said.
Rogina suggested that change may have the unintended consequence of keeping 16- and 17-year-olds from obtaining jobs they are currently eligible for.