Youngstown to consider raising age to buy tobacco to 21

By David Skolnick


City Health Commissioner Erin Bishop said she plans to ask city council in September to pass legislation raising the legal age to purchase tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21.

But three council members – Nate Pinkard, D-3rd; Lauren McNally, D-5th; and Anita Davis, D-6th – who attended Wednesday’s public meeting on the proposal said they were undecided on whether it should become city law.

“I have a problem saying to a 20-year-old, ‘You can raise a child, but you can’t buy a pack of cigarettes,’” Davis said.

The council members said they want to see data on the impact raising the legal age to 21 has had on other communities.

The proposal wouldn’t make it illegal for those between 18 and 20 to use the tobacco and vaping products.

Also, the proposal from Bishop doesn’t include a criminal component, with the city having no authority to fine or charge youth customers or store employees.

Instead, the store owners would face civil fines under the proposal, she said.

A first offense would carry a warning. A second offense would include a $250 fine, a third offense a $500 fine and a fourth offense could result in a suspension from the health department to an offending store owner from selling such products. Those charged with violating the proposed law could appeal to the city board of health.

There are 450 communities – including 21 in Ohio – and seven states that have passed legislation to increase the legal age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21, said Wendy Hyde, the Ohio and Michigan regional director for the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, which is leading the charge to change the law.

“It’s a life-saving ordinance,” she said.

About 20 people attended the public meeting on the proposal at the Covelli Centre’s community room.

There are about 83 businesses in the city that sell cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as e-cigarettes and vaping products, Bishop said.

She acknowledged after the meeting that enforcement would be a challenge.

Jan Kalan of Liberty, who attended the meeting, said after it ended she opposed the proposal because the “government is being so controlling of people’s rights. It’s totally wrong. It’s too much of an infringement on people’s rights.”

Kalan added she smoked during both of her pregnancies and her children are healthy, and that she doesn’t believe “all this mumbo jumbo about the dangers of cigarettes.”

For decades, packs of cigarettes have been required to include warning labels that the surgeon general “has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health” and “may complicate pregnancy.”

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