By Steve Giegerich

St. Louis County joined on Tuesday 190 other U.S. communities that have chosen to ban the sale of tobacco products and electronic nicotine delivery systems to anyone under the age of 21.

The County Council enacted the ordinance in a 5-1 vote. West County Republican Mark Harder dissented.

"Tobacco 21" (or "T21") will become law on Dec. 1 and be in force countywide.

Second District Councilman Sam Page, the bill's sponsor, called the vote a "big win for the young people of St. Louis County. It will dramatically decrease smoking habits, and we will save kids' lives."

Page, a physician, fast-tracked the legislation, introduced just two weeks ago, over a last-gasp attempt to stop the bill by an unaligned coalition of area business owners and residents who claim e-cigarettes function as smoking cessation mechanisms.

Vape shop owners, employees and longtime smokers pleaded with the council over the past two weeks to exclude vaping products from the T21 legislation.

"Vaping is saving people's lives," resident Julie Roark told council members Tuesday, echoing a sentiment heard frequently over the past two weeks.

E-cigarette proponents repeatedly cited a British study by the Royal College of Physicians as proof that vaping is an effective tool for cutting into nicotine addiction.

Page dismissed the analysis as a "position paper" that gives "vague legitimacy to the health benefits of vaping."

The councilman, physicians and nonprofit health organizations advocating for T21 instead pointed to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration study equating tobacco and vaping, to support their position.

"We know vaping products are tobacco products, the FDA told us that," Page told reporters. "(Vaping) is not a legitimate cessation product."

Corey Noles, the editor of Vape magazine, voiced disappointment at the council decision.

"There is no one more opposed to tobacco products than this group of people," Noles said, adding that e-cigarette backers would have "knocked on doors" on behalf of T21 had it been limited to tobacco products.

Pro-vaping forces have not discussed mounting a legal challenge to T21.

Noles said the nonaligned vaping coalition would next make its case to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay indicated on Twitter two weeks ago that he would pursue legislation for the city to follow the county's lead on T21.

Harder said he disagreed with "the structure of a bill that was almost unenforceable."

The legislation, he added, also raised a fundamental question. "Eighteen-year-olds can do everything but drink," Harder said. "But we're going to take away their right to purchase a pack of cigarettes?"

The council managed Tuesday to move on from one piece of controversial legislation.

But another matter that has drawn angry constituents to Clayton was shelved until another day.

Because of a zoning technicality, developer JHB Properties withdrew late last week its petition to put up a 232-unit apartment complex in south St. Louis County at the intersection of Bauer and Tesson Ferry roads.

The council referred the process back to the county planning commission on Tuesday.

Residents of nearby subdivisions who oppose the project -- which they say will exacerbate traffic congestion, cause crowding in the Mehlville schools and bring "transients" into neighborhoods of single-family houses -- expect the issue to return to council before the end of the year.

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