The Helena City Commission voted Monday night to seek further amendment of an ordinance that would prohibit the sale of tobacco products from self-service displays in city retailers.
The amendment commissioners want considered by City Attorney Thomas Jodoin and interim City Manager Dennis Taylor concerns an exemption from the ordinance for tobacco retailers that do not admit minors. The ordinance placed before commissioners and Mayor Wilmot Collins on Monday night made no distinction between adult-only tobacco retailers and other retailers, such as convenience stores.
After public comment and discussion among the commission, Commissioner Ed Noonan moved successfully to postpone final passage of the ordinance and allow Jodoin and Taylor time to develop such an amendment. Commissioner Robert Farris-Olsen opposed Noonan’s motion, while Commissioner Andres Haladay was absent.
The ordinance, as considered Monday, defines a self-service display as an “open display or storage of tobacco products in a manner that is physically accessible in any way to the general public without the assistance of the retailer or employee of the retailer … without a direct person-to-person transfer between the purchaser and the retailer or employee of the retailer.”
The ordinance further mandates that customers of tobacco retailers “may not take possession of the tobacco product until after payment has been received and processed.”
Missing from Monday's draft of the ordinance was language from a previous draft restricting where consumers can purchase flavored tobacco products. Prior to an initial vote on Oct. 15, Noonan moved to strike a section of the ordinance that would have confined the sale of flavored tobacco products to adult-only retailers. The commission then voted unanimously to move forward with the amended ordinance, setting up Monday’s first attempt at final passage.
For the remaining language regarding self-service displays, the ordinance calls for a “warning letter and education” for offenders within its first 60 days in effect. The Helena Municipal Court is then directed to fine convicted offenders at least $500 for an initial violation, at least $750 for a second and at least $1,000 for a third.
To ensure compliance, the ordinance would require biannual inspections of tobacco retailers during its first year in effect and annual inspections thereafter, with additional inspections following affirmed violations.
A previous version of this story stated that flavored tobacco restrictions had been struck "from the ordinance passed Monday." The ordinance was not passed at Monday night's meeting.