Enforcement to come down from state level
MOUNT VERNON — The new Tobacco 21 law takes effect today, raising the legal age of purchasing tobacco-related products from 18 to 21.
Tobacco-related products include cigarettes, electronic smoking devices and liquids such as Juul, cigars, pipe and chewing tobacco, any dissolvable nicotine products, filters, rolling papers, and pipes, among other things.
The Tobacco 21 movement in Ohio started in the spring of 2015 and Upper Arlington, a suburb of Columbus, was the first city to adopt a Tobacco 21 policy in June of that year. The movement quickly gained traction and by the spring of this year, 31 other policies where in place in cities around Ohio.
Ohio is joining 17 other states that have adopted this policy. Another 10 or so states, according to tobacco21.org, have cities or counties that have adopted Tobacco 21 policies.
Pam Palm, Public Information Office at the Knox County Health Department, said that enforcement of this law will come mostly from the state level. The health department’s role as of now, she said, is to help educate those under 21 about the risks of smoking.
Local retailers, she said, should have gotten an information packet with information regarding signage and penalties.
Retailers must have a sign saying that it is illegal to sell to those under 21 posted in a visible locations. When caught selling tobacco to an underage person, both the person selling and the retail establishment may face criminal penalties that increase after the first violation.
“We support the new law,” Mike Whitaker, program coordinator of the Community Cessation Initiative, said. “We’re all for it. It will benefit the public health.”
He said that they hope that those who can’t legally buy tobacco products will want to quit. The new law, he said, will help reduce the number of people who smoke since 95 percent of people start smoking before the age of 21. The cessation program at the health department will be ready to help those who wish to quit smoking.
“Whenever there’s been a change (in the laws) before, we saw an increase in people wanting to quit,” Palm said.
According to tobaccofreekids.org, 8.5 percent of high school students in Ohio smoke, which is above the 5.8 percent of the national average.
It’s estimated that 5,400 kids under 18 become daily smokers each year. Often times, those under 18 get access to tobacco products from their 18-20 year old friends. On top of that, 20.5 percent of adults in Ohio smoke compared to 14 percent nationally.