TALLMADGE — Those wishing to purchase tobacco products at city retailers must now be at least 21 years of age.

Council on Thursday voted 6-1 in favor of legislation raising the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping products, from 18 to 21.

Council member James Donovan cast the dissenting vote.

The legislation, nicknamed “Tobacco 21,” is being promoted through an initiative by Summit County Public Health. The legislation makes it illegal for businesses to sell cigarettes, tobacco products and other tobacco product paraphernalia to anyone under 21.

Donna Skoda, health commissioner for Summit County Public Health, said she was thrilled that council approved the legislation.

“This is really an issue around protecting health,” said Skoda, who attended Thursday’s meeting. “It’s my job as health commissioner to bring these issues forward ... We’re happy because anything we can do to protect and eliminate the next generation of smokers, I’m all about.”

Even though he mostly cited several reasons against the new law and said, “I don’t support growing government,” Councilman Dennis Loughry said he supported the legislation.

He noted he learned from the school resource officer and school district administrators how addictive vaping products are.

“I know how hard the nicotine addiction is to kick and the harm it does to your body over time,” said Loughry. “I truly believe that if parents aren’t going to parent, then government needs to do what it can to help protect children. Even if the gesture is mostly symbolic ... It is our job to try and protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

While noting he understood the concerns about health issues, Donovan said he felt the law was penalizing people who are considered adults and are purchasing a legal product.

“We’re targeting people who are using something legally,” he said. “We’re taking the rights of somebody who now is not banned from using a product. They’re considered adults. ... We’re infringing on their rights.”

He added he was also not in favor of “patchwork laws,” where people can drive to a neighboring city to purchase an item that they are unable to buy in their home city.

Mayor Dave Kline said he supported the legislation and was glad to see Council backing it. The mayor added the state is looking at the possibility of adopting legislation. Skoda noted statewide legislation is being developed by Gov. Mike DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, director of Ohio Department of Health.

“I believe this legislation targets the wrong entities for punishment,” said Loughry. “In my opinion, the purchaser must be held accountable.”

A business would not face a penalty for a first violation, according to the legislation. A second violation would result in a $500 civil fine, and subsequent violations would prompt 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.

Law Director Megan Raber said there are not any retailers in the Portage County part of Tallmadge that sell nicotine now, but if that changed, she said they would have to determine what entity would enforce the age restriction because Summit County Public Health would only have jurisdiction in Summit County.

The law has been approved by Summit County Council, Akron, Kent, Twinsburg, Mogadore, Green, Richfield and Norton, but was rejected by Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson and Stow.

County Council’s approval affects Bath, Boston, Copley, Coventry, Northfield Center, Richfield, Sagamore Hills, Springfield and Twinsburg townships.

 

Editor’s note: Reporter Emily Mills contributed to this story.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.