Paul’s Note

In anticipation of the work study session to discuss raising the tobacco legal sales age from 18 to 21, Tucson Councilman Cunningham articulated his support for the initiative:

“95% of smokers start before the age of 21, and a law like this will make it easier for high schools to keep tobacco out. Similar laws have been passed across the country, including two cities in Arizona (Douglas and Cottonwood). It is being considered in Tempe as well. It will be the law in Illinois should the governor sign the bill. If that happens, close to one third of people in the US will be living in areas covered by these laws.

The aim here is not to punish kids for buying cigarettes or even smoking, but to discourage retailers from selling cigarettes to people under 21. Because we already have systems in place to stop alcohol sales to people under 21 (our drivers’ licenses are designed for that), it will likely not be a burden on most retailers. It is actually a small percentage of sales over all (2% according to a Harvard study), but would have a big impact on future addictions.

Still, we have a lot to decide. For example, what mechanism will there be for enforcement? There is actually a city issued license for selling tobacco, but it is not something that has been enforced. If we put more of an emphasis on getting retailers to buy that license (they cost $100), we can put that towards enforcement. Either we can hire an officer to enforce the law, or compensate the county health department to do so. In Columbus, Ohio and St. Louis, Missouri, they have a special compliance officer who visits retailers twice a year.”

Councilman Cunningham further explains that the work study session was only the “start of the discussion” and that “the details, particularly enforcement, will have to be worked out.”

Finally, he noted that this movement is driven by youth, with the presentation given by local high school students.

“As a teacher, I see the challenges with fighting youth tobacco addiction every day. The growth of “vaping” has made tobacco use seem like something safe and the sticks that are used can look like a pen. There are new products like the JUUL that don’t look like you are smoking at all. Many of these products are subtly aimed at sales to young people to get them addicted. I’m for anything we can do as policy makers to make this as hard as possible.”

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August 8, 2018