Ohio Town Raises Smoking Age to 21

by | June 9, 2015

By Zack Lemon

Students who picked up a smoking habit during their first year of college won't be buying cigarettes if they're home for the summer in Upper Arlington.

In a unanimous vote, the Upper Arlington City Council voted on Monday night to raise the legal age to purchase any tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine, within the suburb to 21 from 18.

Councilman Kip Greenhill led the effort, with support from the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation. He said this ordinance sends a message to young people of "how strongly we feel about their health and well-being."

Nine Upper Arlington residents spoke in support of the change, and only one -- Evan Lewis, 19, of Upper Arlington -- spoke out against it.

"The conclusions subsumed by this legislation is that people 18 to 20 years old are too immature to make their own life choices," Lewis said.

Founded in 1996 by Dr. Rob Crane, the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation was heavily involved in the passage of the Ohio Smoke-Free Workplace Act in 2006, and it is now focused on raising the legal age for tobacco purchases.

Thomas Geist, the foundation's regional director, said the group has presented a similar plan to Bexley and New Albany. He said he expects those suburbs to pass legislation this summer.

"In five to 10 years, this will be the new normal," Geist said.

Both council Vice President Debbie Johnson and Councilman Erik Yassenoff said they were concerned about enforcing the new law.

Yassenoff said the lack of uniformity in surrounding suburbs is "a loophole that we can't correct within this legislation."

Police Chief Brian Quinn did not share their concern.

"We're not talking about possession; we are talking about the sale of the products, so I don't see it as a problem," he said.

The sale of tobacco to buyers between 18 and 20 will be a misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $150 for the first offense; $250 for a second offense; and up to $500 for the third time.

Geist said the harm to local retailers would be minimal, as only 2 percent of tobacco sales go to the 18- to 20-year-old age group targeted by the law.

Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, disagreed.

"The cigarette customer is a good customer," he said. "Any time someone gets between you and your customer for a legal product, your business will suffer."

Tobacco sales account for 37 percent of all convenience-store revenue dollars, he said, as well as bringing customers into the store to buy other things.

The Upper Arlington ordinance will take effect in 30 days.

(c)2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)