Summit County businesses in the county's nine townships will no longer be able to sell tobacco products to anyone under 21.

Summit County Council on Monday voted 8-3 to ban businesses from selling cigarettes, tobacco products and other tobacco product paraphernalia to anyone younger than 21 years old in Bath, Boston, Copley, Coventry, Northfield Center, Richfield, Sagamore Hills, Springfield and Twinsburg townships.

The ban includes electronic smoking devices like e-cigarettes and vape pens — including Juuls, which are popular with teens and young adults. A Juul Labs spokesperson said the company supports raising the purchasing age from 18 to 21 and preventing youth access to Juul products.

Summit County is the latest to pass the Tobacco 21 measure. Akron, Green, Twinsburg city, Mogadore, Norton and Richfield village have approved similar measures. Cuyahoga Falls, Stow, Hudson and Barberton have rejected it, while Tallmadge and Lakemore are considering it.

In municipalities that haven’t enacted Tobacco 21 legislation, it's legal for people 18 and older to buy tobacco products.

Supporters say the ordinance, an initiative from Summit County Public Health, would push the products outside the social circle of younger students, as they're less likely to know someone over 21 than someone over 18. And school officials have said the use of electronic smoking devices in schools is a serious issue.

Supporters of the Summit County ordinance included the Township Association of Summit County, several school districts and several medical organizations, including Akron Children’s Hospital and Summa Health.

Summit County Public Health Director of Population Health Cory Kendrick said he was “very excited” and “very happy” with Monday’s vote, adding he was “looking forward to working with the other communities that are left and hopefully at some point have a countywide Tobacco 21 initiative.”

But opponents say the measure takes away rights from legal adults who can vote and serve in the military or on a jury.

“They should be allowed to use tobacco products if they want to. I'm not in favor of taking people's rights away unless there's a real good reason,” said District 2 council member John Schmidt, who voted against the ban, along with District 1 council member Ron Koehler and District 3 council member Gloria Rodgers.

Kendrick said next week, the organization will start reaching out to the rest of the cities and villages in the county that haven’t yet considered a Tobacco 21 initiative.

 

According to Summit County Public Health data, 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21. In Summit County, about 15 percent of people ages 18 to 20 smoke.

Eighteen- to 20-year-olds with tobacco products won’t be punished. But any tobacco products sold or given to anyone under 21 are subject to seizure and forfeiture as contraband, according to the ordinance.

Businesses that sell tobacco products will be required to get a one-time $150 certificate of compliance. First violations for businesses that sell tobacco products to people younger than 21 will not result in fines.

Second violations will incur a $500 civil fine, and each subsequent violation will result in a $1,000 civil fine. The fines will go toward efforts to prevent those under 21 from smoking or to promote smoking cessation.

Summit County Public Health will enforce the rule and issue the fines, with inspections and undercover purchases.

Rodgers proposed an amendment requiring any fees or fines the public health organization collects related to the measure go into Summit County's general fund, with the county then distributing the money back to the organization, saying council should be kept in the loop.

But after Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said the organization would provide quarterly updates to council, Rodgers withdrew her proposed motion.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has proposed increasing the legal age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 statewide, something Kendrick said Summit County Public Health would “love to see.”

“That's been our hope since the beginning. We just hope that it includes vaping devices and enforcement,” Kendrick added.

 

Contact reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and @EmilyMills818.