Tucson City Council to draft ordinance to raise smoking age to 21

Effort to ban underage tobacco sales

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Tucson City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday, Aug. 8, to direct staff to draft an ordinance which will raise the smoking age inside the city limits to 21 from 18.

The city would join about 350 other cities across the country that have already done so in the past few years.

The ordinance would include all tobacco products, even vaping products, which have become popular among teens, as well.

The argument in favor of the ordinance is to keep the teens from getting started on a lifetime of smoking. Studies show as many as 95 percent of lifetime smokers start in their teen years.

The change in age is being led by tobacco21.org, a national youth movement responsible for the changes.

"Seniors and younger high school students buying nicotine products illegally are a pipeline to high schools," said Paul Durham, Tucson City Council member in Ward 3, who is leading the charge. "If we raise the age to 21, we cut off that pipeline."

In making their arguments, a group of teens from Empire High School lobbied the council on behalf of raising the age.

A common opposition argument made by Faras Hussein, an employee of Frank's Smoke Shop is "if you're 18 you're ready to go to the war zone but you are not allowed to buy cigarettes."

15-year-old Empire student Ava Ramaley countered the argument telling the council "we also know the military supports this because when Hawaii enacted the policy other military bases in Hawaii complied with it because they want healthy men and women serving in the military."

One concern is over enforcement cost because an effort by Pima County in 2014 cost $300,000.

The city says it will raise license fees on the 412 outlets that sell tobacco products inside the city limits, enough to make enforcement revenue neutral.

Ward 2 Council Member Paul Cunningham said he did not believe an ordinance can be drawn up and the required number of public hearings in less than six months.

According to council arguments, the penalties would be aimed at the dealers not the teenagers.

"What I don't want to see happen is that the penalty will be placed on youth," said Ward 1 Council member Regina Romero. "We don't need to criminalize youth."

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