MOUNT VERNON — The Knox County Board of Health adopted an Ohio Tobacco 21 Law for Knox County during its Wednesday meeting, supporting in full the state legislation that went into effect Oct. 17 while making an amendment to its resolution on the topic.
The county’s resolution “recognizes and supports” the new state “T21” law that prohibits the sale of all tobacco products such as cigarettes — as well as vaping that falls under the definition of “electronic nicotine delivery systems” — to those under the age of 21. Sections of the resolution also state that all Knox County tobacco retailers, including “vape shops,” must post a sign stating it is illegal to sell tobacco and electronic vaping systems to those under 21, and that retailers found to be in violation by illegally selling tobacco to those under 21 “may face criminal penalties that increase after the first violation.”
An amendment put forth by board of health member Jeff Harmer was passed 7-0 and removed two items from the resolution. One removal involved a section stating “Whereas, the Board of Health is aware that the T21 law will help in reducing our county tobacco use rates among our disparate (i.e., LGBTQIA+, low socio-economic, mental/behavioral health, substance misuse, pregnant mothers) and young adult populations as the health department’s Knox Out Tobacco Cessation Program has reported 90 percent of enrolled cessation clients in 2018 started using tobacco products before the age of 21.”
Harmer said he objected to the language because he didn’t want to single out any one single group for tobacco misuse. County Health Commissioner Julie Miller said both during and following the meeting that the mention of the “disparate,” or at-risk groups, had to do with their being “identified in all the data on smoking demographics as the most susceptible to heavy tobacco use.” By mentioning those groups, cessation programs can make concerted efforts to include them. But the language was stricken.
The resolution also “strongly recommends” that all Knox County municipalities, such as the city of Mount Vernon and local villages, strengthen the Ohio T21 law at the local level by adopting policies that include:
•Requiring all licensed tobacco retailers to remove all flavored liquid nicotine products, including menthol and mint as the use of flavors are very popular among young adults;
•Require all licensed tobacco retailers to remove all in-store promotional materials and advertising of all tobacco products;
•Conduct an annual training for all tobacco retail managers/owners in the T21 law and to educate staff;
•Establish at least two unannounced tobacco compliance checks of all licensed tobacco retailers per year to be completed by volunteers who are age 18-20 and work in conjunction with local law enforcement;
•Establish a fine for illegal sales related to T21 to cover enforcement costs for compliance checks or other necessary expenses.
Harmer’s amendment also succeeded in removing the language of the last bulleted item, striking the language “to cover enforcement costs for compliance checks or other necessary expenses.” He said telling municipalities how to spend their fines goes too far and is something that should be decided by those entities which pass such ordinances.
Harmer said he was also concerned with language that would restrict tobacco retailers to place signs in their stores, but Miller informed the board that was part of the new state law.
In other action Wednesday, the health board heard an update from Pam Palm, public information officer, who said she has been working with board members Barb Brenneman, Diana Goodrich and Lee Rhoades about selecting a new name for the Knox County Health Department, which follows an overall state trend to incorporate the larger scope of public health efforts. Thus far, three potential names have emerged: Knox Public Health, Knox County Public Health, and Public Health of Knox County, with the latter name gaining the upper hand at present. But additional input from stakeholders and the public is sought, she said. A new logo will also be developed by early next year.
Palm offered that Knox Public Health, although appropriate, would have the initials KPH — with their already being several county entities that begin with the letter “K,” such as Knox Community Hospital, or KCH, and the Knox Substance Abuse and Action Team (KSAAT). So going in a different direction would help avoid confusion, she said. Removing “Knox County” from the beginning of the name is also appropriate because the agency is not governed by county government.
The health board also heard the first of three readings of proposed Environmental Health fees, which were last increased in 2017, county Environmental Health Director Nate Overholt said. The newly proposed fees, covering the costs associated with commercial licenses for food service operations, mobile food service operations, retail food establishments, RV parks/campground licenses, vending licenses and other items, will have a final reading in January preceded by a public hearing, Overholt said. The costs of such fees are proposed to increase anywhere from 5 to 15 percent, and Overholt said it will be up to the board to ultimately decide what if any increases are to be implemented.
Under state law, the health department cannot make money on such fees, Overholt said. But it is allowed to charge fees it considers necessary to conduct inspections and reviews necessary to provide licenses.
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