Cleveland Heights to introduce ‘Tobacco 21’ legislation in October

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — City Council plans to introduce legislation next month to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco, nicotine “e-cigs,” “vapes” and assorted smoking paraphernalia from 18 to 21.

The proposed “Tobacco 21” ordinance would bring the city in line with higher age requirements in other cities, including Cleveland, Columbus, Euclid and most recently in Akron.

Cleveland Heights would be working with a “minor misdemeanor” template that would not subject violators to jail time but rather fines, and for businesses, revocation of sales permits after multiple offenses.

The Cuyahoga County Board of Health would handle enforcement, with warnings issued in the first six months, then $250 on first and second offenses, $500 on the third, and $1,000 and sales permit revocation beyond that.

Cleveland Heights Assistant Law Director Elizabeth Rothenberg noted that the proposed definition for “tobacco products” is very broad, including rolling papers and e-cigs.

. . .

Councilwoman Melissa Yasinow raised concerns that otherwise “law-abiding, tax-paying businesses” would be unknowingly subject to penalties even though they’re not selling tobacco.

“I don’t think we can separate the two,” City Manager Tanisha Briley said. “If we’re ‘for’ Tobacco 21, we’re going to be ‘against’ any business that sells those products (to underage people).

Briley added that those businesses would be aware of the potential consequences, since a permit would still be needed.

While he tends to favor legalization of marijuana for adults, Councilman Kahlil Seren does not believe that smoke shops can be exempt from the “Tobacco 21” laws.

“But it’s the health consequences of tobacco that are epidemic in this country,” Seren said, citing cancer, emphysema and other smoking-related illnesses that require expensive medical treatment.

Cleveland Heights council discussed Tobacco 21 legislation back in the spring, when studies were cited showing that if young people are not smoking or “vaping” by the age of 21, they are not likely to pick up the habit for the rest of their lives.

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September 18, 2018