Cleveland Heights “Tobacco 21” legislation up for final approval

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — City Council could approve legislation Monday (Oct. 15) raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco, “e-cigs” and other nicotine “vape” products from 18 to 21.

If passed, it would not take effect until January 2019. The proposed “Tobacco 21” ordinance received first reading at council’s Oct. 3 meeting, along with the blessing of the Cuyahoga County Health Department, which would handle enforcement.

“It is critically important to reach young adults,” county Director of Environmental Public Health Rick Novickis told council. “We look forward to moving ahead in partnership with Cleveland Heights, much as we have with the City of Euclid.”

Novickis added that Cleveland Heights’ proposed ordinance could serve as a template for other communities.

No criminal penalties are imposed on prospective underage buyers, although sellers would be subject to civil fines, and after multiple offenses, possible suspension or revocation of permits.

“Besides the violating business owner putting the permit into jeopardy, the draft legislation allows civil monetary fines and other remedies such as injunction,” City Law Director Jim Juliano noted.

He added that while the proposed ordinance does not provide a penalty for an underage user, the business owner is “required to verify the user’s I.D. proving that he or she is 21, and a false I.D. may itself be a different violation against the user.”

Council also heard Oct. 3 from Wendy Hyde, the regional director of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation/Tobacco 21, who recalled how she got involved in the campaign five years ago.

The health teacher and adjunct professor at Baldwin Wallace University was picking up her then-13-year-old son from junior high basketball practice when he asked her about “vaping.”

“I found out that a kid was selling vapes out of his locker for $10,” Hyde said, pulling out a “nicotine-delivery device” that could be mistaken for a flash drive.

Hyde said that e-cigarettes and vapes have “changed the landscape in terms of getting a whole new generation of youth addicted to nicotine.”

These instruments can have a higher percentage of nicotine, with Hyde noting that the adult brain does not fully function until around the age of 25.

At the same time, she pointed to statistics that 95 percent of lifetime smokers started the habit before the age of 21.

And five years later, Hyde now has another 13-year-old son who regularly gets on the bus with 18-year-olds, which can lead to further exposure to tobacco and vaping.

“But he does not have the same kind of access to 21-year-olds,” Hyde added.

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October 10, 2018