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As of March 7, North S.L. putting tobacco out of reach of minors

Beginning March 7, retailers in Davis County's southernmost city will be required to place all tobacco out of the reach of minors.

The change comes thanks to a new city ordinance passed Jan. 6.On Wednesday, the Davis County Board of Health commended North Salt Lake for the city's commitment to battling underage smoking. Becky Condiff, tobacco prevention and control educator for the board of health, said the ordinance came about because of recommendations made by the health board.

Among the board's recommendations that North Salt Lake retailers, with the exception of bars, will now follow are:

- No self-service access to tobacco by consumers.

- Signs, with wording at least a quarter-inch high, stating that tobacco sales to any person under 19 years of age is illegal.

- No tobacco vending machines.

"This is a big step for not only North Salt Lake, but for the county and state as well," said Condiff. "This is an ordinance we are happy to see enacted."

The Board of Health has pushed for the ordinance because somebody needed to do more to prevent minors from smoking, Condiff said. Statistics show that almost 90 percent of people who start smoking begin before the age of 19. Since retailers had failed to take the initiative to limit access to tobacco, Condiff said, the Board of Health went to the cities for assistance.

"If the stores can't act responsibly, somebody has to," she said. "The cities are responsible for their kids."

She didn't necessarily blame the retailers, however. Instead, she pointed her finger at tobacco companies. She said many tobacco companies will provide financial incentives to retailers who set up counter or floor displays for tobacco. Also, the companies reimburse stores for stolen tobacco.

This thievery of tobacco may have driven North Salt Lake to pass the ordinance first, because the city had the highest percentage of tobacco theft in the county, said Colin Wood, North Salt Lake's city manager.

The city's businesses haven't opposed the ordinance, either. Wood said only one of the eight retail stores in the city has complained, and they were more concerned with the enforcement of the law as opposed to the law itself.

"Some of the businesses would even like to tell the cigarette people they can't put tobacco on the counter because it's against the law," Wood said.

Nor will the new law place much financial burden on businesses. Most of the retailers already have overhead cigarette bins or similar storage cases for tobacco, he said.

Other cities in the county, however, have decided to wait to pass the ordinance, for two primary reasons. For one, the other cities would like to see how it works in North Salt Lake, Wood said.

But a bigger reason is that an almost identical bill is being considered in the Utah Legislature. HB31 is currently on its third reading in the House, and seems to have strong support, even though it has yet to pass either legislative body, he said.

Should that bill pass and receive Gov. Mike Leavitt's approval, North Salt Lake's ordinance would become moot. But if it doesn't pass, other cities, such as Layton, are poised to pass their own law, Wood said.

Either way, the Board of Health would get its desire for a county less friendly to underage smoking.