ST. LOUIS • City lawmakers have taken a step toward banning the sale of tobacco and nicotine vapor products to anyone under the age of 21.
The Board of Aldermen advanced two bills on Thursday — one for tobacco, one for electronic cigarettes and vapor products — that could be passed by the board as early as next Friday.
Because Mayor Francis Slay supports the age 21 restriction, it could become law the same day.
Dionne Flowers, 2nd Ward Alderwoman and sponsor of both bills, said she was confident that would be the case.
If so, St. Louis would join St. Louis County, Kansas City, Chicago and roughly 200 other cities across the country that have passed Tobacco 21, or T21 legislation.
Under the legislation, the city’s Department of Health can send minors into stores to test whether employees are in compliance. City police can also issue citations.
Violators would be subject to fines of $100, $250 and $500 for first, second and third offenses, respectively.
Although both of the bills passed easily, aldermen debated it for roughly an hour. 25th Ward Alderman Shane Cohn was especially vocal on Thursday, going to the microphone three times to state his opposition.
While calling cigarettes and their associated health risks, “absolutely horrible,” Cohn argued that anyone old enough to vote for president or go to war should be allowed to buy tobacco and nicotine products.
“Why are we infantilizing” 18-year-olds, he asked.
Scott Ogilvie, alderman from the 24th Ward, said it didn’t make sense that an 18- or 19-year old could buy an AR-15 rifle but not cigarettes.
“I detect the air of paternalizing here in our public health,” he said.
Cohn and Ogilvie cast the only two “no” votes on the bill dealing with tobacco products. The vote to raise the purchase age on tobacco alternatives passed unanimously.
In defending both bills, Flowers acknowledged that raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21 from 18 won’t prevent a determined young person from using tobacco or alternative products, but she said it would make a dent.
Raising the age of purchase is effective because most people get addicted to nicotine when they’re young, she said. It’s also easy for an 18-year-old high school student to buy tobacco or nicotine products legally and then introduce them to friends who are younger. But at age 21, their social circle has changed, Flowers said.
“Every day, 3,800 youth smoke a cigarette for the first time,” she added.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that if youth smoking rates continue at their current rate, 5.6 million Americans under 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness.
Meanwhile, the Institute of Medicine estimates that raising the age of purchase to 21 would result in a 12 percent decrease in smoking prevalence across the country by 2100.
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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