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Toledo councilmen get public input on raising tobacco age

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Students at Toledo Technology Academy speak about why they are in favor of raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 at a public meeting Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, about the issue.

Lauren Lindstrom Enlarge

The possibility of raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 moved a step closer to a vote before Toledo City Council after a public meeting Wednesday to discuss the issue.

The public hearing at Toledo Technology Academy was the first on the matter since it was introduced to city council in committee last month. The proposal calls for raising the purchase age for all tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Toledo City Councilman Yvonne Harper and representatives from the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department and the University of Toledo spoke to students and staff at the school.

“We have to do everything we can to keep that young person from starting to smoke. If they don’t start smoking by the age of 18 they’re not going to start,” said Amy Thompson, a public health professor at UT. “This is the next generation of public health practices and policies that will keep us safer. We know that in cities that have passed these laws we have seen the adolescent smoking rate cut in half. It works.” 

She said it follows other “common sense” public health laws, such as speed limits, seat belt laws, and limits for alcohol consumption and driving.

Ms. Harper encouraged students to listen and see how government deliberation works, telling them, “We’re here to listen to you.”

Nine other Ohio cities have increased the purchase age to 21. Dublin recently passed such a proposal, joining bigger cities like Cleveland and Columbus. Proponents say it cuts tobacco access for younger teens who attend school with 18-year-olds and can keep some youths from starting at all. 

Several students addressed council members wearing t-shirts, each with a reason why they support the measure.

“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S...Tobacco use is started and established primarily during adolescence,” said senior Kierra Grant as her classmates turned around to reveal their shirts. “Flavors in tobacco products make them more appealing to youth.” 

Other students also voiced their support, though some questioned whether increasing the age by just three years would make a substantial difference.

Toledoan Ray Johnston said raising the age would curb an 18-year-old’s freedom to choose using tobacco, saying those who are old enough to serve in the military should be able to make that choice.

“We expect our young people between 18 and 21 to be responsible adults,” he said. “They can make babies. They can vote. They can own cars. They can own real estate. They can get jobs and turn professional . Yet, you deny someone who may wish to smoke between 18 and 21 the right to do that.”

Smoking rates continue to decline in Lucas County: 24 percent of adults smoked in 2011 compared with 14 percent in 2017, according to county health assessments. Smoking rates for ninth through 12th grade students also dropped from 18 percent in 2011 to 5 percent in 2017.

Ms. Harper said she hopes to return the issue for discussion to council’s neighborhoods, community development and health committee, though didn’t offer a specific timetable.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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