Smoking age likely to increase to 21 in Pima County

Tobacco retailers could be forced to purchase $300 license each year
Published: Aug. 2, 2019 at 9:01 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Both Tucson and Pima County are poised to pass ordinances next week raising the smoking age from 18 to 21.

Both have the item on their agendas for Tuesday August 6, 2019.

The ordinance would require tobacco retailers to purchase a license, thought to cost in the vicinity of $300 and renewable annually.

The ordinances come after two years of discussions, holding dozens of pubic meetings and collecting hundreds of community comments, much of it from retailers who will be affected.

The laws take effect on January 1, 2020. If they pass next week, the ensuing four months will be a grace period used to educate the retailers on the law.

Vaping and vaping products are also included. While there are no long term studies on the effects of vaping because it’s so new, it’s thought including it will prevent potential harm.

But even though the ordinance raises the age to 21, that's not the specific target.

“We don’t want young people to start using tobacco products,” said Rebecca O’Brien, a Pima County tobacco specialist who helped draft the law. “If they don’t start before 21, they likely won’t start at all.”

Studies show more than 90% of smokers begin before the age of 21. If people don't start by 21, the chances of them being lifetime smokers drops significantly.

The target is 13, 14 15 year olds who many begin smoking because they have access to smoking materials from their friends who may be 18 or 19.

By the time a person is 21, it's unlikely they will have a circle of friends in the younger age group.

Even though it’s likely the two governments will pass the ordinances of the same day, only the county will be in charge of enforcement.

The Pima County Health Department will be in charge of enforcement.

“We do tons and tons of education about tobacco, so we have subject matter experts in the house who are already out in the field doing a lot,” she said. “So it was a nice fit.”

The penalty for the first violation is an education class but they rise from there to include financial penalties to possible license suspension for multiple violations.

Anyone who turns 18 prior to the laws taking effect will be grandfathered in. They will be allowed to purchase and use tobacco products if they are born prior to January 1, 2020.

Copyright 2019 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.