Ohio Raising Smoking Age to 21

Age to buy tobacco rises to 21 today; Most Clark County residents approve

Starting today, anyone under the age of 21 will not be allowed to buy, own or use tobacco or smoking products such as vaping pens as Ohio joins a growing number of other states enacting Tobacco 21 laws.

“The goal of Tobacco 21 is to reduce the rates of tobacco and nicotine usage among young people to improve health and save lives,” a statement from the Clark County Combined Health District said.

Ohio is the 18th state to raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. Ohio’s ban includes vaping products, cigarette rolling papers and other accessories related to smoking.

The state law change, signed by Gov. Mike DeWine in July, will go into effect today and comes as teen smoking rates rose to more than one in four high schoolers and one in 14 middle school students in 2018, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to a CCCHD survey, 82% of Clark County residents support Tobacco 21, a nationwide survey shows that 75% of adults favor the age increase to 21.

“Raising the legal age to 21 has been shown to reduce high school smoking rate by over 50% by putting access outside the social circle of most high school students,” the CCCHD’s statement said.

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Research shows nicotine use can rewire a young brain to crave more and emerging evidence suggests e-cigarettes may be harmful to lungs, according to the Federal Drug Administration.

The FDA reports 3.62 million middle and high school students use e-cigarettes and the use is increasing. In 2018, nearly 21% of high school students used e-cigarettes, up from 11.7% in 2017, according to the FDA.

According to the 2017 Clark County Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 43% of high school students have tried a vapor product.

“Nationwide, we know that vaping prevalence increased by 38% between 2017 and 2018. If left unchecked, the vaping epidemic will ensure that another generation of Ohioans will suffer the often-deadly consequence of tobacco use and nicotine addiction,” the statement from the CCCHD said.

More adults smoke in Ohio, 21%, than compared to the national average of 17%, according to the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit organization, “inspiring tobacco-free lives.” Smoking-related health-care costs in Ohio are estimated at $5.64 billion a year, according to the nonprofit.

Retailers across the state have put up new signs and are training workers on the new restriction. The law change means less revenue for many business owners but it’s not expected to be significant loss, according to Alex Boehnke, public affairs managers for the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.

OCRM did not lobby for or against the law change, but Boehnke said having the same rules for everyone is better than individual municipalities, such as Columbus and Cincinnati, passing Tobacco 21 laws while others do not.

“It’s about certainty and uniformity across the state,” Boehnke said. “If you’re a retailer in Dayton and a retailer in Cleveland, you are operating under the same set of rules. That’s the thing we’re always seeking.”

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Public health agencies across Ohio have provided retailers guidance on what to expect under the new law. There will be random compliance checks at stores, in which undercover, underage persons will attempt to buy a smoking or tobacco product.

“The Clark County Combined Health District, as well as local law enforcement and the Ohio Department of Health, will work with all retailers within Clark County limits to ensure compliance,” the CCCHD’s statement said. “However, tobacco and nicotine retailers that do not comply with the Tobacco 21 ordinance risk citations.”

According to the law, if a person under 21 is found in violation, they could be fined up to $100 and be forced to complete a smoking education or treatment program if one is available. If court orders are disobeyed, the offender may be required to perform 20 hours of community service and have their driver’s license or learner’s permit suspended for 30 days, according to the Ohio Revised Code.

A toll free hotline will be active for the next few months for anyone with questions about the law change. Those with questions should call 855- OHIO-T21 (6446-821).

Dayton Daily News Reporter Sarah Franks contributed to this report

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