MORELAND HILLS — People under the age of 21 can no longer buy tobacco products in the village. The new law approved by council raises the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old in an effort to promote health and safety.

“Young people with nicotine addictions are more likely to suffer from drug addictions,” Councilwoman Monica Sturgis said at the June 12 council meeting.

Two retail establishments in Moreland Hills sell tobacco products, the Sunoco gas station at Chagrin Boulevard and SOM Center Road and the Marathon gas station at SOM and Miles Road. According to Law Director Aimee Lane, the primary focus of this ordinance was the Sunoco station on Chagrin due to its proximity to the Orange City School District. Students walk past the gas station on their way to and from school. Mayor Susan Renda said that this new law will benefit the school district, as board members have expressed a concern with vaping at the schools.

“The school board members are glad we’re doing this,” Mayor Renda said.

In addition to raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products, the law also requires any store that sells tobacco products to obtain a permit. The Cuyahoga County Board of Health is the permitting agent.

Ms. Lane said that this idea was brought to the village by the county board of health. The board provided materials to the village about the Tobacco 21 program, a national campaign aimed at raising the legal age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21.

If someone who appears to be under 30 years old would like to buy tobacco, the employee is required to verify the person’s age by asking for their driver’s license, military ID, passport or another form of identification, according to the ordinance.

As the permitting agent, the board of health is responsible for issuing permits and inspecting the facilities for proper signage. A business that sells tobacco must have a valid vendor’s license from the Ohio Department of Taxation and a permit from the board of health. The business must also pay a $100 permit administration fee. Once the permit is issued, it will last through Dec. 31 of that year.

Ms. Lane said that Moreland Hills seems to be the only village in Cuyahoga County that asked the board of health to oversee its program. The board of health contracts with cities to provide health services, but provides services to villages and townships as a matter of statute, she said. Due to the nature of this ordinance, there is now a contract between the village and the board of health, which indicates that the county agency would administer the program and offer enforcement for violations of the law, she said.

Councilman Paul Stanard was the only council member to vote against the ordinance, saying that this is not an appropriate matter for village council to handle. He said that he is not opposed to the Tobacco 21 program, but it did not fit in with responsibilities that council typically handles, including approving budgets and maintaining infrastructure.

“It’s outside the principal function of local government,” he said.

The policy went into effect immediately.

Mark Rajko, owner of the Sunoco station at Chagrin and SOM, said that he does not expect the new law to impact his sales. Despite its location near the Orange City School District, Mr. Rajko said that most of his customers are not students.

“We have a lot more workers, like landscapers, pool people and pest control people,” he said.

Mr. Rajko said he owns another gas station in Wickliffe where the buying age for tobacco was raised from 18 to 21 a year ago, and that change did not affect his sales. Mr. Rajko also noted that there is little foot traffic near his store, and students do not tend to come in. He estimated that most of his tobacco customers drive to the store from 3-7 p.m. after they finish their work shifts. According to Mr. Rajko, it will be easy to implement the new law.

“I’ll just change the policy with the employees. We card everybody,” he said.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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