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City’s age limit to buy, sell tobacco could increase

A city council member and two Ohio State University professors asked city officials April 6 to raise the age limit for the sale and purchase of tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21 in Upper Arlington.

Saying it would be the most effective way to reduce smoking in the community, Councilman Kip Greenhill asked fellow council members to consider the request.

He was backed by Micah Berman, who teaches at OSU’s Moritz College of Law and College of Public Health, and Dr. Rob Crane, a clinical associate professor of family medicine at the OSU Wexner Medical Center and president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation.

Each noted Upper Arlington was quick to support a public ban on smoking and to prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes, and said the city should take this new step in cutting off smoking before it becomes a lifelong habit for many.

“I think our community can take a lot of pride in being a leader, not only in Ohio but the Midwest, in public health,” Greenhill said. “This is probably the single most effective intervention we can use against tobacco.

“We all know tobacco kills. This is a safety issue.”

Crane said he was appearing before council because of Greenhill’s support of the proposal to raise the age limit for buying and selling nicotine products but also because of the city’s record against smoking.

He said he plans to visit communities throughout central Ohio in hopes of convincing others to increase their sale and purchase age restrictions.

“We’re going to talk about kids and preventing kids from starting,” Crane said. “One out of 13 children alive today will die from smoking. That’s 5.6 million American kids alive today who will die if we don’t do something.”

Crane said more than 50 cities in seven states already have raised the tobacco and nicotine age restriction from 18 to 21.

He added that, according to an OSU College of Public Health study, 22 percent of women age 18-21 in Franklin County smoke during pregnancy, which is twice the rate of smoking during pregnancy for those older than 21.

He said the study found the tobacco industry spends more than $1 million every day to market products in Ohio.

Berman said only retailers and tobacco companies oppose raising the age restrictions. Reducing smoking at young ages significantly decreases the chances someone will smoke later in life, he added.

“If you make it past 21, it is highly, highly unlikely that you will ever smoke,” Berman said. “If you make it past 18, it’s unlikely you will smoke. There has not been one lawsuit challenging any one of these regulations.”

Council is expected to consider legislation to change the age limit for the sale and purchase of tobacco and nicotine products at a future meeting after Greenhill and Councilmen David DeCapua and Mike Schadek indicated initial support for such a measure.

“It seems patently obvious for us to do this,” DeCapua said.

However, council Vice President Debbie Johnson and Councilman Erik Yassenoff said they are hesitant to move forward at this time.

Johnson said she wants to find out more about how raising the age limit would affect local businesses and law enforcement.

Yassenoff said he supports “uniformity” of regulations among neighboring communities and would prefer the issue be addressed in concert with other communities or, possibly, at the state level.

“I strongly support uniformity of public policy for jurisdictions that are closely knit,” he said. “(We could) reach out to other communities to see if we can all move forward at the same time.”

Because of the power of tobacco industry lobbyists, Crane and Berman said, they don’t believe the state will raise the age restriction any time soon, which puts the onus on local governments.

“I think it has to come from the ground up,” Berman said.

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