Ordinance would make Cottonwood first in Arizona to raise legal age to light up

Suzy Q owner Rob Harrison: “When you tell people, you can’t buy cigarettes until you are 21, but you can fight and die for their country. Where does it end?  Do we put the adult age to 21 and tell them they are all babies until 21 or do we do something that makes sense and make it the same for when you are an adult.” (VVN photos by Vyto Starinskas)

Suzy Q owner Rob Harrison: “When you tell people, you can’t buy cigarettes until you are 21, but you can fight and die for their country. Where does it end? Do we put the adult age to 21 and tell them they are all babies until 21 or do we do something that makes sense and make it the same for when you are an adult.” (VVN photos by Vyto Starinskas)

Cottonwood could soon become the first city in Arizona to raise legal age for the purchase of tobacco products for those younger than 21.

The Cottonwood City Council Tuesday heard the first reading of Ordinance 620 that would raise the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. It actually does more than that. If ultimately approved, the ordinance would, "prohibit the possession, use and/or sale of tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, or vapor products, by or two persons under the age of 21."

The ordinance would require that anyone who violates the code to take a tobacco education course and, by doing so, the charge would be dismissed on the first offense. A second or subsequent offense would subject the offender to a fine of up to $100.

The retailer who sells such restricted products to a person under 21 would be fined $250 on the first offense and $500 for a subsequent offense.

Cottonwood has already investigated the legality of trumping state law through the Attorney General's Office and found that it would be OK. A city may not, however, amend the state tax law on tobacco products.

The Yavapai Anti-Tobacco Coalition of Youth at Mingus Union High School is the driving force behind the proposed restrictions. Students are following the lead of Tobacco-21, a nationwide program to educate people on the dangers of tobacco use.

The youth committee has the help of the Yavapai Health Coordinator, Jen Mabery. Mabery said the age difference is important, since "young brains are not fully developed until they are in their 20s."

That makes a difference, since deferring the choice to smoke means many are not likely to start.

YATCY and the proposed code list the reasons for the ordinance, including that tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of preventable death.

The rate of high school smoking in Arizona is very close to that of adult consumption. This rate will cause an estimated 115,000 eventual deaths, with 5,500 children becoming daily smokers each year. The result is an annual health care cost of $2.38 billion that is directly attributable to smoking. The state only spends 32.6 percent of the CDC recommended amount on tobacco prevention, but does impose a $2 tax per pack.

Over 140 cities and towns nationwide have already increased the legal age for use or purchase of tobacco. Hawaii has adopted a state law and California is in the process of adopting a similar edict statewide.

At least one retailer, Rob Harrison of Suzy Q in Cottonwood, believes it should be done as a state or nationwide effort and "not city by city and town by town."

Harrison said, "All it is going to do is push business out of town, push tax revenue out of town and they are going to get it anyway, whether it is here or the businesses outside the city limits."

Harrison also believes, "There are many, many issues with it, not just revenue: other social problems that it creates. When you tell people, you can't buy cigarettes until you are 21, but you can fight and die for their country. Where does it end? Do we put the adult age to 21 and tell them they are all babies until 21 or do we do something that makes sense and make it the same for when you are an adult."

In March 2015, YATCY appeared before the Cottonwood City Council to help enact a non-smoking ordinance in Cottonwood parks, except for designated areas.  

There will still be second and final readings of the proposed ordinance before the city council votes on it.

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