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City Cracks Down on Tobacco Accessory Sellers

A hookah decal advertised on a shop window. (Photo/Max Green)
A hookah decal advertised on a shop window. (Photo/Max Green)

Shops that sell tobacco accessories will have to provide more information about their businesses under a measure passed by a Chicago City Council committee on Wednesday.

Chicago’s 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney, who sponsored the ordinance, said tobacco sellers put paraphernalia in their windows that make them look like “bong shops.”

Tunney’s amendment would affect anyone in the city licensed to sell tobacco accessories. Currently, this is the same license provided to convenience stores for the sale of cigarettes.

“This means cigarette papers, wrappers, pipes, holders for smoking materials of all types and cigarette rolling machines,” Tunney said. “It includes any other item designed primarily for the smoking and ingestion of tobacco products.”

While tobacco accessories themselves and the establishments that deal primarily or even exclusively in the sale of those accessories are not inherently illegal, Tunney said that the current regulation of licenses leaves room for violation of Illinois’ Drug Paraphernalia Control Act.

“The city cannot deny a retail tobacco dealer’s license simply because of a high percentage of sales or shelf space devoted to tobacco accessories,” Tunney said. “But based on complaints from residents the presence of these establishments has truly become a quality of life issue.” Tunney also said that businesses neighboring these “bong shops” are negatively impacted by their presence.

“I’ve seen the places you’re talking about,” said Ald. Willie Cochran (20th). Cochran, while acknowledging the issues presented by Tunney, raised concerns about the practices that tobacco accessory licensees may run into under the new amendment.

Cochran said the ordinance should include a way for businesses to inform the regulating departments should they choose to increase the percentage of their sales that will come from tobacco accessories.

The amendment revolves primarily around the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection collecting data from tobacco accessory licensees regarding the amount of space devoted to the sale of those products at individual locations. This data will also allow for the closer monitoring of these businesses for potential violations of the ordinance as well as informing the Chicago Police Department’s statistical analysis about which storefronts may be in violation of the Drug Paraphernalia Control Act.

“In the past we’ve had a real challenge with trying to get inspectors out to monitor these locations,” Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) said.

Graham said after reviewing the pictures presented by Tunney that the city needs to do a little bit more than is being proposed.

“This is kind of scary,” Graham said. “We’re dealing with groups of young folks growing up and being highly influenced by this kind of stuff.”

Under the new amendment, businesses that previously received felony convictions for violation of city law relating to the distribution of tobacco products or accessories will have a much more difficult time having their licenses renewed.

“Currently these head shops are licensed no differently from a convenience store that sells cigarettes,” Tunney said. “But their impact on the community is vastly different.”

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