August 5, 2016
#Tobacco21 Movement Hits Ann Arbor: Michigan City Raises Cigarette Purchasing Age From 18 to 21

Ann Arbor will be the first municipality in Michigan where a young person who old enough to fight in a war will not be old enough to buy tobacco products. Ann Arbor joins the Tobacco 21 movement, which is a nationwide effort to raise the tobacco-buying age to 21-years-old. In Ann Arbor, the city council voted to ban the sale of tobacco to people under 21 with a 9-2 vote on Thursday night.

The city ordinance was introduced by Councilwoman Julie Grand, D-3rd Ward, and the city officials say that they do not care if the ordinance ends up in court for conflicting with state law.

Just as municipalities in other states that have joined the Tobacco 21 movement say, supporters in Michigan's liberal college town say that the ordinance will make it harder for young adults to get their hands on tobacco. Supporters say that it will help prevent tobacco addiction and eventually save lives. Opponents to the raised tobacco age claim that it will not prevent young adults from smoking. They say that it will only encourage young adults to purchase their tobacco products from neighboring areas instead of local businesses."I do sympathize with the business owners who may be affected by this in the short term, but the science is clear on this," Councilman Kirk Westphal, D-2nd Ward, said of the proposal he co-sponsored. "The tobacco lobby has inflicted enough misery on this country and I'm happy to do anything we can to play a leadership role on this effort in Michigan."

Ann Arbor city council members hope that neighboring communities will follow suit and that eventually, the smoking age in the State of Michigan will also be raised to 21.

Michael Miller, the regional chief mission officer at St. Joseph Mercy Health System, told the city council that he supports the Tobacco 21 ordinance. He was joined by many other health professionals at the council meeting Thursday.

The two members of city council that voted against the proposal (Councilman Jack Eaton and Councilwoman Jane Lumm) both indicated that they were concerned that the ordinance could land the city in court for opposing state law. They both said that they would have supported the ordinance if it didn't conflict with state law. Michigan's Tobacco Products Tax Act of 1993, according to the dissenting voters, states that local governments "shall not impose any new requirement or prohibition pertaining to the sale or licensure of tobacco products for distribution purposes."

The city council ultimately decided that their new ordinance was an act of civil disobedience, according to Councilwoman Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, who also co-sponsored the proposal.

"Whenever there's a situation that may go to the courts and we've got to make a call, I think about what's our likelihood of success and what's our cost of failure, and for me I think there is a risk," Councilman Chuck Warpehoski, D-5th Ward, said. "It's an untested area in the state of Michigan. But as an untested one, I think the opportunity to save lives is worth taking a leadership role and pushing for better legislation."

Councilman Graydon Krapohl, D-4th Ward, said that he felt a moral obligation to take the first steps towards affecting state law. He said that without actions like the councils, the state Legislature would never act.

Chris Rosenthal, the owner of Tobacco Rose Cigars in Ann Arbor, said that it makes no sense that people can get married or join the military at 18-years-old, but they will no longer be allowed to purchase tobacco in Ann Arbor.

"Am I supposed to tell them no when they get back from deployment?" Rosenthal asked. "I don't want to do that."

The proposed ordinance will also repeal the penalization of Ann Arbor teens who possess tobacco, according to MLIVE. Instead of penalties for the underage use of tobacco, penalties will be placed on retailers.Senator Brian Schatz from Hawaii and nine co-sponsors introduced the first Federal level bill to raise the nationwide tobacco age to 21 in 2015.

"This year, Hawai'i became the first state in the nation to raise the minimum smoking age to 21. It was an historic public health achievement that we should adopt nationwide," Schatz said, according to Tobacco 21. "By raising the minimum tobacco age of sale to 21 across the country, we can cut the number of new smokers each year; build a healthier, tobacco free America; and save lives."

In May of this year, California became the second state in the Union to raise the legal tobacco age from 18 to 21, according to NPR. The California law does not apply to military personnel.

[Image via Pixabay]