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County May Create Licensing For Those That Sell Tobacco

Chautauqua County may create a licensing scheme in order to better regulate businesses that sell tobacco and vaping products.

During a recent Human Services Committee meeting, county lawmakers discussed ways to address smoking, especially among young people.

According to Lynn Schaffer with the county law department, county governments cannot raise taxes on cigarettes, but it can create a licensing scheme, as long as revenue made from the licensing goes back to smoking enforcement.

“The licensing scheme would basically be a local law that sets up essentially a permit program for vendors and retailers, where they would file for a permit with the county and then depending on how you want to set this up … that unit would set up a permit that would be associated with a fee,” she said. “People would apply for the permit or fee the same way our campgrounds apply for a permit or fees, or tattoo parlors apply for a permit or a fee, which would be based on regulatory oversight by the county.”

Schaffer added that with the fees collected, the county would “be able to heighten and strengthen enforcement of existing state regulations and achieve maximum compliance with what’s already on the books through these licensing fees.”

Over time the county, if it chooses, can reduce the number of licenses or restrict sales in a certain area. One example is to prohibit sales of tobacco and vape products near schools.

County Legislator Ken Lawton, R-Busti, wondered if they will get objections from nearby businesses that have been in existence for a while and have been selling tobacco.

County Legislator Elisabeth Rankin, R-Jamestown, said the county could consider offering “grandfather clauses” to existing businesses, allowing them to continue, but not issuing any new permits.

County Legislator Paul Whitford, D-Jamestown, said they should expect pushback from businesses. However, that doesn’t mean he’s against it. “I think the main issue is, is the struggle worth a life and the answer is always yes,” he said.

No formal proposals have been made at this time. Rankin, who is also a member of the county Board of Health, led the discussion, and said they will continue to discuss this in the future.

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