Proponents push to raise age to buy tobacco to 21

William K. Alcorn


City council’s public health committee is interested enough in raising the legal age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21 in the city to ask the law department and Health Commissioner Erin Bishop to develop legislation to change the age.

The committee, consisting of Councilwomen Lauren McNally, D-5th, chairwoman, and Anita Davis, D-6th, and Councilman Nate Pinkard, D-3rd, vice chairman, heard testimony Thursday in favor of raising the age from Bishop and Dr. Elena Rossi, medical director for special projects for Akron Children’s Hospital.

Called Tobacco 21, the proposed law would not prohibit those under 21 from smoking, but it would ban sales to anyone under 21 of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, vaping and another method called Juul, which is growing in popularity, particularly among younger users.

“It is like a flash drive, and it is flavored and is highly addictive,” Dr. Rossi said of Juul.

Also, she said, these products are not regulated and there is no documentation that they are safe.

“We want to start focusing on e-cigarettes. They don’t smell or taste like tobacco,” said Bishop.

“Vaping is not a safe alternative to tobacco. It is just substituting one product containing carcinogens with another,” she said.

Bishop recommended that any legislation on the subject give the health department enforcement authority.

“Inspecting vendors that sell food and tobacco products is part of our everyday work, and our sanitarians would follow up on complaints,” she said.

Proponents of T-21 Youngstown said it would create barriers to access to smoking, especially to young people, and prolong initiation into use of tobacco products, resulting in fewer adult smokers.

“If people don’t start smoking before they are 21, there is less of a chance of them becoming daily smokers,” Dr. Rossi said.

She said Tobacco 21 laws are local ordinances that raise the legal minimum age for the sale of all tobacco, vaping and nicotine products from 18 to 21. They are rapidly emerging health policy strategies that have been implemented in more than 180 localities in 13 states, she added.

“From my perspective as a pediatrician, there is absolutely no question that tobacco usage, in its many forms, negatively impacts several health issues that we are working to address, including chronic disease and maternal and infant death,” she said.

Tobacco use continues to be a significant public health concern in our communities, state and country, she continued.

“Although we have made great strides through tobacco-cessation efforts, there are still 15 percent of Ohio high-school students who report smoking, compared with 11 percent nationally. And each year, more than 7,000 children in Ohio under age 18 become new daily smokers,” Dr. Rossi said.

“Passing Tobacco 21 legislation is for the health and benefit of our community. I would be proud if Youngstown takes the lead in this,” said Bishop.

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