Columbia, South Carolina, City Council asks staff attorney to draft ordinance that would outlaw sale of individual cigarettes; such sales usually made at convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods

COLUMBIA, South Carolina , November 19, 2013 () – The sale of individual cigarettes, known on the streets as "loosies," may be banned in the city of Columbia.

City Council's public safety committee on Tuesday asked a staff attorney to draft an ordinance that would outlaw the sales, which usually are made at convenience stores in low income neighborhoods. The request for a ban originated with Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, said Councilman Moe Baddourah, who leads the public safety committee.

Sales of single cigarettes causes problems, including loitering and allowing minors access to tobacco, said Maj. Melron Kelly of the Columbia Police Department.

"It causes panhandling," Kelly said.

Already, the sale of individual cigarettes is illegal under federal law. When stores open a pack of cigarettes and sell them individually, that means the store owners are skirting federal taxes on cigarette sales, said Jeanne Brooker, a city staff attorney.

But that law must be enforced by the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency, Brooker said.

"Obviously, today the ATF isn't particularly interested in going store-to-store to enforce this piece of the Family Smoking Prevention Act," Brooker said.

No city or county in South Carolina has a law against single cigarette sales, Brooker said. But there are laws against it in other states that have withstood court challenges.

A local ordinance would allow city police to cite store owners who allow the sales.

The issue would come before the full City Council for consideration once Brooker drafts a proposal. No time table was discussed.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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