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City discusses inclusion of electronic smoking devices in smoking ban ordinance

To go along with the federal law that went into effect last year, the City of Oxford is considering banning the sale and distribution of electronic smoking devices and materials to anyone under the age of 21.

The proposed amendment to an existing ordinance was made by the Oxford Police Department during Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting and had its first reading.

Although the federal law was passed in December, individual states have a period of time to pass their own law. Mississippi has not done so yet, but OPD is wanting to go ahead and amend Oxford’s smoking ban ordinance accordingly.

“We anticipate Mississippi following suit,” officer Rusty Raspberry said to the Board. “There’s a period for states to come in compliance. Due to some issues that we’re seeing, especially in our younger-aged kids, we felt like being more proactive in trying to step in.”

The proposed amendment, titled Section 50-94 would put “Restrictions on Electronic Smoking Device(s) and any electronic smoking pod(s), cartridge(s), and liquid refill(s)” to anyone under the age of 21 inside the Oxford city limits.

The amendment also goes toward preventing any elementary, junior high or high school students from possessing electronic smoking devices or related materials on “any educational property.”

Lafayette and Oxford High Schools have had students suffer serious reactions after using vaping devices on campus in recent weeks. Last month, OPD conducted electronic smoking device compliance checks of 24 local businesses, and eight of them failed.

During the discussion of the amendment, Alderman John Morgan voiced concerns about putting this into law, then going around and busting students at the University of Mississippi for having devices – while also stating he was in favor of passing the ban.

“If we were a city that just had a high school here, it’s a no-brainer,” Morgan said. “But, we’ve got a university and I just hate to see it where all of a sudden we’re just busting university kids constantly for possessing these things.”

Penalties for those in violation of the proposed ordinance were included. Those who illegally possess the devices or materials will be hit with monetary fines that increase with each repeated offense. The first offense would be a fine of $25, second offense would be $75 and the third offense would be $100.

There is also a community service option included in the penalties.

Those in violation of selling or the distribution of the devices or materials, including businesses, would be hit with harsher penalties. The first offense would be a $100 fine, second offense would be $250 and a third or additional violation would be $500. An enhanced fine penalty of $1,000 could be enacted if the judge deems it necessary.

“We’re not looking at this as a way to fine them, but a way to discourage the behavior,” Raspberry said. “We want to discourage this more than we’re looking to hit their pocketbook.”

There will be a second reading and a public hearing held for the proposed amendment during the next Board of Aldermen meeting on Feb. 18 at 5 p.m.