Hartford Becomes First Municipality In State To Raise Tobacco Purchasing Age To 21

Hartford on Monday became the first municipality in the state to ban the sale of tobacco products to people younger than 21, a benchmark its leaders hope other Connecticut cities will emulate.

The city council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance that raises the legal age to purchase tobacco goods to 21, up from 18.

“We have an opportunity to be a leader,” Council President Glendowlyn Thames said. “We’ve all seen the research and the growing concerns about young people smoking and vaping. Raising the age requirement and giving individuals a longer time to mature and make decisions is appropriate.”

Hartford’s ordinance prohibits city businesses from selling products such as cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco or pipe tobacco to people younger than 21. It also bans the sale of vaping products, which contain nicotine, to those under 21.

About 240 establishments are licensed to sell tobacco products in Hartford, according to data from the state Department of Revenue Services.

The ordinance takes effect immediately, though enforcement will not begin until April. Fines of $250 may be levied for each violation, and the city could suspend tobacco licenses for store owners who flout the mandate.

Hartford’s health and human services department is responsible for performing at least two unannounced checks per retailer each year. Liany Arroyo, director of the department, said city workers routinely inspect Hartford establishments, and the tobacco compliance checks would not pose a problem. The city will work with area youth groups to conduct sting operations.

Hartford officials have pointed to a state survey that put the rate of smoking among adults (people 18 and older) in Hartford at 23.5 percent, higher than the statewide average of 15.3 percent. They did not have data that focused solely on people aged 18 to 20.

Advocates also cited a 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine that found raising the age limit to 21 helps prevent smoking among teens, particularly those aged 15 to 17.

Six states — California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine — have adopted similar rules, along with dozens of municipalities, including New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Antonio. Officials in nearby Central Falls, R.I., last year approved raising the legal age to 21.

“We know the tobacco industry uniquely targets young people to replace consumers dying from their products, and too many of our children are becoming addicted before they even have a chance to grow up,” said Bryte Johnson, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Connecticut. “But if kids don’t pick up a tobacco addiction during their vulnerable adolescent and teenage years, they’ll be less likely to do it when they’re 21.

“This ordinance has the potential to reduce smoking rates in Hartford and ensure our kids live longer, healthier lives.”

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October 22, 2018