Will local officials approve Tobacco 21 legislation?

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Youngstown and Girard officials are mulling local Tobacco 21 ordinances in their municipalities to raise the legal age limit to 21 to buy tobacco or vape products.

There is a push for a statewide enactment of Tobacco 21 led in part by Gov. Mike DeWine, whose administration has referred to teen smoking as a public health crisis.

The proposal wouldn’t make it illegal for those between 18 to 20 to use tobacco and vaping products. It would impose a civil penalty on retailers that sell tobacco and vape products to people between those ages.

Critics of the possible legislation, however, are concerned that, just as minors still drink underage, people between 18 to 20 could still access these products by having friends purchase them.

Chris Vince, owner of the Vapors Dream shop in Girard, said he doesn’t think this type of legislation would prevent certain age groups from buying tobacco and vape products.

“We take great pride in making sure we ID everybody, but there are gas stations in bad parts of town that will sell cigarettes to 15-year-olds; they’ve been doing it for years,” he said.

The legislation would hurt his business slightly, he said, but people older than 21 ultimately could still go to businesses to buy products for their friends under 21.

Aside from that, “you can go fight for your country when you are 18 years old, but you can’t make a decision as to whether or not you can vape or smoke?” he asks.

The Vindicator reached out to several Youngstown vape and smoke shops but was unable to find anyone who wanted to speak on the record.

There are 21 communities in Ohio that have passed similar legislation, and Girard and Youngstown would be the first cities in Trumbull and Mahoning counties to enact this law.

Jenna Amerine, Trumbull County Combined Health District Health educator, said she believes the legislation would prevent young people from smoking and forming lifelong habits.

“I think this proposal is extremely important in Trumbull County because we have high smoking rates, and this is an evidence-based way to make sure we are lowering that smoking rate, I’m excited to see if we can get it in Trumbull County,” she said.

According to the American Lung Association, 87 percent of people had tried their first cigarette by the time they were 18 years old, and 95 percent had by age 21.

She cited the rising popularity of vape and e-cigarette products with middle and high schoolers, such as JUULs, as a concern.

Passing legislation on the local level would allow the municipalities to have some control on the details on the ordinances, such as ensuring vape and e-cigarette products are included, she said.

Girard Mayor James Melfi said he doesn’t expect there to be any delay in council bringing in the legislation and running it through three readings.

”As elected officials, there is nothing more important we can do than to protect our young people, so it’s an easy decision to make,” he said.

Erin Bishop, Youngstown city health commissioner, said she expects the public health board to bring legislation for the city council to vote on in August. She believes local legislation is necessary in case Tobacco 21 is not approved at the state level.

“At the end of the day, this legislation would make it harder for young people to get vape and tobacco products,” she said.

“If we can decrease the amount of kids who are smoking, then we can decrease the amount of adults in the future who suffer from disease like lung cancer and diabetes.”

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