A proposal could give city police a new tool to clean up illegal activity at small corner stores.
The proposal is to ban the sale of single cigarettes on the city level. It’s something that mirrors similar bans on the state and federal levels, but one that would allow for easier enforcement by city police, officials said.
“It’s one of the things that they do that I don’t believe is in anybody’s best interest,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said this week. “This will help us get the message out that we are looking to work with businesses so they can be successful, but they have to play by the rules.”
The proposal is part of his effort to target corner stores that he says foster an environment of drug activity and have a negative impact on neighborhoods. He announced the effort in his State of the City address in January.
McCarthy has said many stores are good, but some must be scrutinized.
Specific wording of the proposal is expected to be worked out by Monday’s committee meeting. A public hearing on the issue is set for March 10.
The state ban on the sale of single cigarettes, sometimes called “loosies” or “singles,” is rooted in tax law, officials said. Cigarettes are taxed by the pack, which contain 20 cigarettes. All cigarettes must be sold in the manufacturer’s packaging.
Violations of the state law could result in fines of up to $2,500, surcharges and loss of ability to sell tobacco and lottery tickets, according to the state Department of Health.
But enforcement, which requires involvement of state tax investigators, can be sporadic, city officials said.
Chief Brian Kilcullen said city police are aware that the practice is going on, but haven’t been able to coordinate with the appropriate state agencies to address it. Putting the ban in city code would allow police to enforce it directly, he said.
“It’s unlawful, and typically if locations are dealing cigarettes individually, there’s other activity occurring there,” he said.
Merchants found in violation of the ordinance could be fined, either the individual selling the single cigarettes or, ultimately, the business itself.
If the city law is passed, Kilcullen said, enforcement could come through organized stings, or when officers get information that it is happening.
McCarthy said there may not be the need for enforcement — just the threat of enforcement may stop single-cigarette sales. Currently, he said, the businesses know the threat of enforcement is small.
Citations that are issued would count toward the overall city point assessment of the business. That assessment includes police calls for drug dealing, fights or other offenses. If the point tally gets too high, the business risks losing its certificate of use and can be forced to shut down, McCarthy said.
The mayor said officials have already had an initial meeting with 10 businesses. He described the meetings as constructive, and the owners as open-minded.
“We don’t want them to be tolerant of people selling drugs in front of their business and we want them to market their products in compliance with the laws,” McCarthy said.