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Federal smoking age change has governments clarifying local rules
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Federal smoking age change has governments clarifying local rules

While the federal government has opted to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, local government officials are not expecting the federal policy to supplant local efforts to curb teenage smoking – at least for a while.

In mid-December, President Trump signed the new minimum purchasing age into law as part of a sweeping $1.4 trillion spending bill, providing the FDA six months to amend its policies, with the minimum age change taking place within 90 days after that. Some businesses in Tucson have already posted notices in stores about the new age limit. The FDA has already changed its website to note that “it is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product — including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes — to anyone under 21.”

That has prompted some confusion for local municipalities, including in Pima County, where the supervisors mulled a proposal to raise the smoking age that was ultimately defeated. Pima County administrator Chuck Huckelberry clarified the situation in a memo to the supervisors last week.

“Please note the federal law takes effect 90 days after publication of a final rule. It is unlikely a final rule will be published within the next six months,” Huckelberry wrote in the Jan. 6 letter. “Hence, the effective date of the law prohibiting the sale of tobacco to persons under the age of 21 will likely be one year into the future or longer.”

A similar sentiment was shared in Tucson, where the city council voted last year to become the state’s largest municipality to adopt what is colloquially known as a T21 ordinance.

The ordinance raised the purchasing age for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, at retailers inside city limits to 21, and established the guidelines for enforcement, as well as penalties. The ordinance went into effect Jan. 1 and is amid a 90-day educational period before enforcement begins.

Assistant city attorney Chris Avery said in a statement that “much of the city’s ordinance is regarding enforcement and licensing which does not appear to be mooted under the new amendments.” He added that city will determine later whether they need to make any changes to the ordinance based on the FDA.

“If the published regulations are in conflict with the city’s ordinance we will have time to conform to federal law,” he said.

The memo from Huckelberry included a note from Francisco Garcia, the county’s chief medical officer, who wrote that the federal action is “welcome and potentially hugely impactful.”

“Tobacco related illness remains the most important cause of preventable morbidity and mortality,” he wrote. “This action does not however affect the larger epidemic of adolescent vaping and its related health effects.”

Contact reporter Justin Sayers at jsayers1@tucson.com or 573-4192. Twitter: @_JustinSayers. Facebook: JustinSSayers.

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