Cottonwood takes statewide lead in raising smoking age
COTTONWOOD -- A number of professional lobbyists populated the audience as the Cottonwood City Council debated Ordinance 620. The new code amendment raises the legal age from 18 to 21 to purchase and possess tobacco, nicotine alternative and vapor products. After nearly three hours of debate, the council approved the ordinance unanimously.
It will become law in 30 days.
The issue attracted a full house, including the entire Yavapai Anti-Tobacco Coalition of Youth membership dressed in black shirts with their bold white logo. The youth group brought the Tobacco-21 campaign to the council.
Tobacco-21 has successfully convinced 150 cities across the nation plus the state of Hawaii to raise the smoking age. The initiative is founded on the belief that if smoking is delayed by three years, many will choose to forgo smoking entirely.
The 15 students from Mingus Union High School, who earlier convinced Cottonwood to restrict smoking to limited areas of public parks, brought a large amount of surveys and data to the debate. Cigarette sales amount to just over 2 percent of total sales, they said, but 90 percent of smokers start before they are 21 years old and lead to 9 out of 10 new smokers.
A comparative action, raising the legal age for alcohol use nationwide to 21, dramatically reduced the number of fatal accidents, they said.
Tim McCabe, representing the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, which represents major retailers, and Matt Morales of the National Association of Vaping Business, disputed the students' data. McCabe complained that not all of the stakeholders were invited to the table when the ordinance was drafted.
"Please allow us time to come up with a plan to do it right, but doesn't punish retailers. We need more time," he said.
Thomas Geist, Regional Director of the Prevent Addiction Foundation of Columbus, Ohio, added his data to the students' arguments in favor of the age change. Geist said research into smoking leads to ailments like ADHD, schizophrenia and more.
"Seventy percent of the public now supports" controls on smoking," said Geist.
William Murray of Verde Lea Market disputed student numbers, saying 8 percent of total sales for tobacco products is more accurate. Born in Mexico, Murray said a driving force in moving to the United States was the freedoms this nation provides.
A representative of the Attorney General's office, charged with enforcement, said his office first became aware of the Cottonwood proposal in January. He said, "It has to start somewhere; 1500 people die every day due to smoking."
Rob Harrison of Suzi Q told the council it would "lose a lot of sales tax revenue. Businesses outside the city already have a tax advantage."
Realtor Holly Grigaitus disputed the city's authority. "It is the parent's job to teach right and wrong."
Cottonwood Police Chief Steve Gesell, said his department would place "education first and enforcement second."
Councilman Terence Pratt, a candidate for Mayor, said he "understands the need for a public discussion and would be tempted to table" the matter.
Councilman Jesse Dowling said he understands the stakeholders' arguments, but questioned, "Are we going to have a middle ground?'
Time Elinski, who is also running for Mayor, said "it is frustrating to hear arguments about the loss of sales." He said he sees "the economic benefits of a community that cares about its youth."
Councilman Randy Garrison said, balancing the "cost vs. safety of youth based on preying on 18-21 year olds, they are giving us a chance to be leaders."
Vice Mayor Karen Pfeifer said times have changed, "there is no more Marlboro man." She said that the students could make the difference and take their message to surrounding communities. She challenged them to make the playing field level across the Verde Valley, so that Cottonwood retailers are not facing significant competition from the outside.
Mayor Diane Joens grilled members of YATCY to make sure they take their message to surrounding communities as well.
It was the normally quiet Ruben Jauregui who made the first move and made the motion to approve the ordinance; Diane Joens added the second. A roll call vote saw every one of the council members vote for the new law.
Ordinance 620 takes effect in 30 days.