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Ohio raises legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21

Posted at 3:12 PM, Jul 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-18 18:23:21-04

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine passed the state budget bill which also included a law that will raise the legal age to buy cigarettes, vape pens and other tobacco products from 18 to 21.

With the signing of the bill, Ohio is now the 18th state in the United States to make the legal age to buy tobacco 21.

Rick Novickis, the director of environmental public health for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, applauded the change.

“You’re just helping to save lives in the long term by making it more challenging for younger folks to purchase tobacco products,” Novickis said. “95 percent of the people that are addicted to smoking as adults began prior to the age of 21. If you nip that in the bud, and you make that challenging for 18, 19 and 20-year-olds to get tobacco, that basically leads to fewer folks smoking in the future. Thus, fewer adults are addicted to tobacco.”

Every day, close to 2,000 youth under the age of 18 try their first cigarette, according to the American Lung Association.

According to a report by the National Academy of Medicine, kids often rely on older friends and classmates to buy their tobacco products.

“Their number one source of tobacco are 18, 19, and 20-year-olds that they know,” Novickis said. “Their family members, their brothers and sisters. They ride the bus together to school.”

Novickis said with the smoking age at 21 statewide, it will provide uniformity. A number of cities and municipalities adopted so-called Tobacco 21 legislation, including seven local governments in Cuyahoga County. Prior to the change in state law, someone who’s 18 years old could purchase tobacco products in Parma, for example, but would be unable to in Brooklyn.

Despite the change at the state level, enforcing the change in state law will be done on the local level. In Cuyahoga County, the seven municipalities that have adopted Tobacco 21 legislation can do undercover operations to ensure tobacco retailers are following the rules. Offenders run the risk of losing their permit to sell tobacco products.

The change in state law also applies to vaping products, which drew a strong rebuke from the trade association that represents vape shops.

“[Vape pods] come in a wide variety of flavors, much more appealing than menthol and basic tobacco mint flavors,” Novickis. “You have a younger audience of people beginning to smoke and they don’t realize when they are puffing on that vape, every pod has as much or more nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.”

DeWine vetoed a grandfather clause that would have exempted people who are 18 to 20 as of Oct. 1, noting that is the age range when most daily smokers begin that habit. He said the exemption would have been too burdensome for businesses.

The American Lung Association said that since students typically do not reach 21 years old while still in high school, this new law will greatly reduce the ease of access children and teens have to tobacco products.

“The Ohio governor and legislators who supported this law proved that they are truly focused on the health of their constituents. With the rise of easily concealable and fruit and candy-flavored e-cigarettes, Tobacco 21 is important now more than ever—protecting youth, reducing smoking rates, saving on healthcare costs and saving lives,” said Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association.

The CEO of JUUL, a company known for making vape devices, applauded DeWine's decision.

"We won’t succeed in providing the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in this country, if youth-use continues unabated. Tobacco 21 laws fight one of the largest contributors to this problem – sharing by legal-age peers – and they have been shown to dramatically reduce youth-use rates. That is why we are committed to working with lawmakers to enact these effective policies and hope more jurisdictions follow in Ohio’s example," JUUL CEO Kevin Burns said.

RELATED: Governor signs next 2-year, $69B Ohio budget, with 25 vetoes