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Tobacco Purchase Age Increases to 21

Mar 08, 2016
Starting Thursday, April 14, stores in the Cleveland will be prohibited from selling cigarettes, tobacco or other smoking products, including electronic cigarettes to anyone less than 21 years of age. 

City Council passed the legislation in early December banning the sale or distribution of tobacco products to young adults, in the hope that increasing the minimum sales age from 18 would disrupt the supply to adolescents and teens. The law was written to go into effect after 120 days.

The new restriction applies only to vendors who sell tobacco and smoking products to under-age customers, not to consumers. It does not criminalize the act of someone sharing cigarettes to young adults – 18 to 20 years of age. 

However, giving, selling, or distributing these products to children under 18 years of age continues to be prohibited. Penalties are a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a $250 fine and a third-degree misdemeanor for a subsequent offense. 
 
Under the ordinance, a first offense by a store caught selling to a customer under age 21 would be a fourth-degree misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses would be second degree misdemeanors, which could carry a 90-day jail sentence.

Council members who supported the legislation said it is intended to protect teenagers from becoming addicted to cigarettes and incurring the lifelong health problems associated with smoking.

While young adults between 18 and 20 make up only about 2 percent of cigarette sales – they represent 90 percent of the suppliers of tobacco to youth under 18, according to testimony during council committee hearings on the issue.

A March 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine strongly concluded that raising the tobacco-sale age to 21 will have a substantial positive impact on public health and will save lives. 

The study found that raising the tobacco sale age will significantly reduce the number of adolescents and young adults who start smoking; reduce smoking-caused deaths; and immediately improve the health of adolescents, young adults and young mothers who would be deterred from smoking, as well as their children.

National data show that 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21. The ages of 18 to 21 are also a critical period when many smokers move from experimental smoking to regular, daily use. While less than half of adult smokers (46 percent) become daily smokers before age 18, four out of five do so before they turn 21.

In June of 2015, Hawaii became the first state to raise the tobacco-sale age to 21. At least 125 localities in nine states, including New York City, Boston, both Kansas Cities, and now Cleveland, have  raised the tobacco sale age to 21. Statewide legislation to do so is being considered in several states, including California.