CLARKDALE - On the heels of Cottonwood becoming the first Arizona municipality to outlaw tobacco by those under 21 years of age, the Yavapai County Anti-Smoking Coalition of Youth asked the neighboring Town of Clarkdale to do the same during an Aug. 9 council meeting.
On June 3, Cottonwood City Council approved Ordinance 620 making illegal "the possession, use and/or sale of tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, or vapor products, by or to persons under the age of 21."
So far, 184 municipalities and two other states -- California and Hawaii -- have banned tobacco sales to those under 21, according to the national youth-led group Tobacco21.org (the impetus behind Y.A.T.C.Y.). Along with making the sale of tobacco illegal, the law also extends to the possession and use of tobacco by those under 21 in some cities (such as Cottonwood) and Hawaii. For those old enough to be serving in the military yet too young to legally purchase tobacco, an exception was made for service members in the California law.
Y.A.T.C.Y. President Gunner Tillamens opened and closed the presentation. He was joined by Vice President Noemy Cervantes and members Sofia Rocha, Katie Williams, Mariah Worthy, Emily Rocha, Daphne Roeske and Stefan Robertson as they took turns addressing the mayor and council. The students needed little help from co-presenter Jen Mabery, health educator, Yavapai County Community Health Services, who intervened only as requested.
"We are asking you to join us," said Rocha to the council. "We understand that the Oovah Smoke Shop is up the street so we are also making appointments with tribal members."
Officials share their battles with nicotine addiction
The mayor and some council members shared their own personal battles with nicotine addiction.
"I started smoking at 17. When I was 30, I was smoking three-and-one-half packs a day," said Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig. "At that time, smoking was almost a mandatory thing in the Air Force."
Council member Bill Regner added his experience, saying "My dad died at 53 from lung cancer and I still smoked as he was dying. Because my own child was relentless (about smoking), I decided to quit for his birthday. This habit is very destructive in many ways."
"I was 16 when I started smoking and did not quit until I was 52. It was the hardest thing I had ever done,' said Vice Mayor Richard Dehnert. "I don't recommend anyone start smoking at any age."
Answers to raising the age
The initiation of nicotine addiction in youth is of primary concern to Y.A.T.C.Y., as current law allows tobacco sales to 18-year-olds. Tillamens shared what happened after Needham, Massachusetts became the first municipality to raise the legal age of tobacco sales from 18 to 21.
"In 2005, it raised the age to 21. In 2006, the town had a youth smoking rate of 13 percent versus 15 percent in neighboring cities. It then dropped down to 6.7 percent and eventually the decline was triple that of neighboring cities," said Tillamens.
According to Y.A.T.C.Y., 21,000 children under 18 will try cigarettes each year, with 5,500 becoming regular daily smokers and 90 percent becoming lifetime smokers.
To counter the fear that retailers would lose sales, the group said that "the impact will be minimal," with "cigarette sales are only 2.4 percent for those under 21."
Questions on raising the age
While in ready agreement with the health hazards posed by the use of tobacco by youth, council was more circumspect about adopting Cottonwood's law.
Von Gausig gently voiced to the group that as they made their rounds of presentations, "you are going to have to answer some tough questions that you may or may not have an answer to."
When Von Gausig asked who funded Y.A.T.C.Y., Mabery stepped-in, stating "Yavapai Community Health Services" and that "tobacco companies are required to pay for education."
He also queried the group as to the source of its statistics and was told "Tobacco 21" and that the "sources are listed on its website."
Dehnert had some questions about the consequences of the law.
"If someone is 19 or 20 and smoking legally since 18, would that mean they are no longer be able to legally purchase and possess cigarettes? If the ordinance is passed, would that mean someone who is addicted becomes a criminal? I would consider it in phases - - age 20 one year, age 19 the next - - so someone is not suddenly told they can't purchase," said Dehnert.
As the subject of possible jail time was discussed, Town Manager Gayle Mabery stated it was her understanding that the decision whether to incarcerate or not would be up to the individual magistrate. (In Cottonwood, Police Chief Steve Gesell is on record stating "education first and enforcement second").
What lies ahead for Clarkdale?
While the youth group and health services may have hoped for council's vote of approval to raise the age of tobacco sales, no formal action was on the agenda for this meeting.
However, it was clear that the well-prepared group of students made a lasting impression on council.
"I applaud the energy that you are putting into this," said Von Gausig.
"A major impact is in the school, telling this to your children in school," said Regner.
"I have four young children and I am fearful of them becoming involved with tobacco," said Council member Scott Buckley. "I think it's a great idea. I'd like to see more of a smokeless generation."