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Compromise Sends Tobacco Bill To The Full House Vote On Amended Bill Could Come Friday

After eight hours of intense argument Tuesday, a law that would help stop minors from getting tobacco products was amended and approved by a House committee.

Parents, retailers, tobacco companies and lawmakers reached a consensus that the measure’s supporters insist does not water down the bill’s intent.

The House may vote on the amended bill Friday.

Vending machine operators gained the most ground in the latest battle over the Idaho Parent-Teacher Association sponsored bill.

Owners would have until January 2000 to get rid of vending machines that dole out cigarettes and other tobacco products. The original measure banned all machines, but retailers feared the move would put vending companies out of business too soon.

PTA member Caryn Esplin said postponing the ban until 2000 was a good compromise because the law would still require vending machine owners to have a permit to sell tobacco.

The bill requires all tobacco sellers to get a free permit and to keep tobacco products behind the counter or in locked displays to prevent minors from stealing.

“It was a grueling process,” Esplin said about the late-night bargaining meetings that put retailers, tobacco companies, health advocates and lawmakers face to face. “But the integrity of the bill still exists.”

Other changes to the bill include:

Removing penalties, such as revoking a store’s permit, on retailers for not displaying signs that warn employees not to sell tobacco to minors.

Restricting the state Department of Health and Welfare’s authority to oversee retail permits, random inspections, training and employment practices.

Removing fines placed on retailers for first-time violations for selling to a minor.

Relieving retailers from having to check identification on all tobacco purchasers under age 27. Though removed from state law, federal law still would have this requirement.

Giving courts the ability to require minors and their parents or guardians to attend tobacco awareness programs or perform community service if the child is caught buying or stealing tobacco products.

Capping fines to retailers that sell tobacco products without a permit. A business person that sells without a permit could receive six months in jail and a $300 fine, or a $1,000 fine for selling to a minor. If illegal sales continue, a court could fine a store without a permit $1,000 per day.

Still in the bill are random inspections, which Esplin said are the foundation of the bill because they ensure retailers aren’t selling to minors.

These enforcement costs carry a $250,000 price tag. Lawmakers told the health and welfare department it has until 1999 to find the money, which probably will come from the federal pocketbook.

, DataTimes