Cigarette in the hand

Hutchinson City Council is considering a smoking ban in city parks.

Two weeks after approving an ordinance that would have raised the legal age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarette products to 21, the Litchfield City Council did a unanimous about face.

The Council, on a 7-0 vote, approved a resolution offered by Mayor Keith Johnson Tuesday to reject the second reading of the ordinance that had passed on a 5-2 vote Aug. 26.

“I just feel we have a lot of questions to ask,” Johnson said in the lead-up to his resolution.

That echoed concerns voiced by other council members about not having enough time to consider the ramifications of the ordinance. Most also mentioned that they had heard from many people on the topic, including convenience store managers who could be affected by the ordinance.

Johnson originally asked City Administrator David Cziok if the ordinance could be tabled, allowing time for the City Council to convene a workshop to go through the ordinance in more detail.

Tabling would be acceptable, Cziok said after consulting with City Attorney Mark Wood, but if during the work session Council members decided the ordinance needed changes, it would require starting the process again.

On that advice, Johnson resolved to simply kill the ordinance and start over. As part of the resolution, he asked that the staff schedule a work session for the Council’s next meeting, at which the ordinance can be reviewed “line by line.” That meeting will be Monday, Sept. 16.

Council members Ron Dingmann and Vern Loch Jr., who voted against the ordinance at its first reading, maintained their objection to it Tuesday.

“There are a lot of good things in this ordinance,” Dingmann acknowledged. “but the one issue … changing (the purchase age) to 21, I personally don’t feel it’s going to be effective.

“We, as a council, I don’t think it’s our duty” to regulate tobacco sales, Dingmann said.

“I’m hoping the state (legislature) does something next year,” Loch said. “I’m wishing and hoping that happens (but) I’ve got reservations about that….”

Betty Allen, who voted for the ordinance originally, actually kicked off the retreat from it.

“It snowballed into so much,” Allen said. “I’m not sure I’m ready to vote on it yet.”

The lone Council member who continued to voice support for the ordinance, Sara Miller, said that her daughter told her before the meeting, “The people sell the products that kill people and they do it only for money.”

“So, I’m still on the process … that we need to make the change,” Miller said. Though she understood the idea offered by some that a tobacco sales ordinance was better left to the state, she said, “sometimes the smaller groups have to be the ones to make the change. That’s just my opinion.”

But after several more minutes of discussion about compliance checks, e-cigarettes and vaping, Miller went with the majority to reject the ordinance.

Brent Schacherer is publisher of the Hutchinson Leader and Litchfield Independent Review.

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