Updated 7:50 a.m., Sept. 7 with council approval - The minimum age to purchase tobacco and vaping equipment in St. Louis County is about to change. The county council has voted in favor of an ordinance increasing the age from 18 to 21.
The new regulation is slated to take effect Dec. 1. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has suggested he will push for a similar law in the city, following the county's lead.
Opponents of the county's move have argued that it doesn't make sense that someone who could sign up for the military, or vote, would not be able to purchase cigarettes.
Original story posted Aug. 31, 2016
St. Louis County is closer to boosting the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
The St. Louis County Council gave initial approval to Councilman Sam Page’s bill that would implement the 21 and older requirement. It would affect traditional tobacco products like cigarettes or cigars and electronic cigarettes.
If the council provides another affirmative vote for Page’s bill, it will go to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s desk.
A handful of cities, including Columbia and Kansas City, already increased the age to purchase tobacco to 21. But St. Louis County would be the first county in the state to adopt such a policy.
“It will have a huge impact on teenage smoking rates. It helps get the cigarettes out of the peer groups of the under 18 crowd,” said Page, D-Creve Coeur. “A lot of the kids that are in middle school and high school get cigarettes from their old siblings. But the siblings that are over 21 aren’t around as much as the siblings that are 18 to 21. So that makes it much more difficult for even the kids under 18 to have access to tobacco products.”
Page said he expects that his bill may end up saving lives if it prevents youngsters from smoking. He also noted that St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay sent out a tweet recently indicating that he’d push for a similar law in the city if the county passed its law. Page added he hasn’t heard anything from officials in St. Charles, Jefferson or Franklin County officials.
But Page also questioned whether lots of people affected by the legislation would go out of their way to buy tobacco products.
“We think people who are already addicted to nicotine and tobacco products, some of them will make the drive,” Page said. “For the ones that haven’t started smoking, I think it won’t be interesting enough for them to get in the car and make the trip.”
"I Vape & I Vote"
Page’s bill received some support at Tuesday’s meeting from some health care professionals, such at Matt Broom.
“Ninety percent of chronic tobacco users in our country started before the age of 19,” said Broom, who is a doctor and a military veteran. “This isn’t a matter of a right to fight. This is a matter of us, as a country and a county, reaching out and saying ‘We’re doing what’s best for our veterans, for Marines, for our sailors and our soldiers.’”
Still, a number of speakers spoke out strongly against Page’s legislation. They argued, among other things, that it didn’t make sense that somebody could sign up for the military or vote, yet couldn’t purchase cigarettes.
“There shouldn’t be any special restrictions for somebody who’s 18, 19 or 20,” said Bill Hannegan, one of dozens of public speakers that spoke out for and against Page’s bill. “They should enjoy the same freedoms that somebody 35 or 40 does. I hope you respect that philosophical point.”
The most vocal opponents of Page’s bill came from connoisseurs of electronic cigarettes, which are included in the legislation. “Vaping” advocates contended throughout Tuesday’s meeting that e-cigarettes steer people away from conventional tobacco products.
“We don't like cigarettes either,” said John Huck, who co-owns a store that sells electronic cigarettes. "If you pass this ordinance today, you are giving all the corruption in America a win against vapor products. Nobody's saying vapor is 100 percent safe. But we know it's a better alternative to cigarettes."
For his part, Page said he decided to include e-cigarettes in his legislation because the Food and Drug Administration “has determined that e-cigarettes are tobacco products and are regulated as tobacco products.”
“It’s better that teenagers don’t start smoking e-cigarettes and become addicted to nicotine – just like it’s better that they don’t start smoking traditional cigarettes and become addicted to traditional cigarettes,” he said.
Page said he plans to offer his bill for a final vote at next week’s council meeting.