Clark County health leaders target raising tobacco sales age to 21

Updated May 06, 2016

Clark County health leaders are pushing to increase the minimum tobacco sales age to 21 in Springfield, which they say will reduce smoking rates and prevent chronic diseases.

Raising the age limit has been shown to reduce high school smoking by more than 50 percent, according to a letter sent to local leaders this week by Sarah Dahlinghaus, a public educator at the Clark County Combined Health District.

A new state law went into effect Wednesday in California increasing the tobacco sales age to 21, exempting only active duty military members 18 and over. Several national organizations — American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association — all expressed support for the measure.

Similar legislation hasn’t been introduced in Ohio, said state Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Springfield Republican and a non-smoker.

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The Clark County Combined Health District is in the early stages of gaining support for the issue, said Dahlinghaus, who also serves as the leader of the Tobacco-Free Living Task Force created as part of the 2016 Community Health Improvement plan.

She hopes to speak with city of Springfield leaders by the end of the summer, Dahlinghaus said, and has asked community members to write letters of support for the initiative.

Springfield city commissioners couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

More than 20 percent of Clark County residents are smokers, according to the 2016 County Health Rankings. The most recent local data — the health district’s 2015 Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, which polled about 800 Clark County residents with land-line telephones — showed 45 percent of adults in Clark County have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.

The initiative will improve those rates, Dahlinghaus said, as well as reduce the number of people who die annually from chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

“It’s about all of those chronic issues caused by smoking that can be prevented or maybe won’t get to such an awful, late stage by not starting to smoke when you’re 14,” she said.

Cleveland and four Columbus suburbs — Bexley, Grandview, New Albany and Upper Arlington — have also enacted Tobacco 21 ordinances. The movement encourages cities to change the tobacco sale age, according to Dahlinghaus’ letter.

Smoking leads to more than 500,000 premature deaths annually in the U.S. and the health care costs and indirect losses to the economy are estimated to be nearly $330 billion per year, according to Ohio-based Tobacco21.org.

A 2015 study by the Institute of Medicine showed that 4.2 million years of life lost for people born between 2000 and 2019 could be saved if the minimum age were raised to 21 nationwide.

More than 20 percent of middle school students in Clark County surveyed by the health district have tried cigarettes, even one or two puffs, according to the Community Health Assessment.

By increasing the sales age, it may reduce the number of middle school-age children who are given tobacco products by their 18-year-old friends, Dahlinghaus said.

Teens are more susceptible to nicotine addiction than older individuals, she said.

“They’re brains aren’t fully developed,” Dahlinghaus said. “They don’t have the capacity to resist addiction the way the adult brain does … We’re hoping in some cases those kids don’t have access to cigarettes, won’t become addicted and become lifelong smokers and lung cancer patients.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes, cigars and hookah tobacco to anyone under 18. The move is aimed at reducing the number of high school students who use these products. In 2015, 3 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes, according to the FDA.

The increased sale age likely wouldn’t hurt business at Plum Food Mart, owner Such Patel said. People under 21 typically purchase loose tobacco products such as cigarillos, rather than cigarettes, he said.

“Of course, it will hurt in that area,” Patel said.

The initiative likely won’t have an effect on stopping younger children from smoking, said Springfield resident Jacquelyn Gaines, a non-smoker.

“Kids are going to do what they want to do, no matter what,” Gaines said. “It really doesn’t matter, especially if the parents smoke.”

While Springfield resident Dustin Bryant said he understood the logic behind the proposal, he agreed with Gaines. Bryant began smoking 17 years ago as a 13-year-old.

“If they want to smoke, they’ll smoke, regardless,” Bryant said. “I understand it’s nicotine and it’s killing people, but there’s a lot of things out here killing people.”