By Dan Papineau
The first municipality to increase the legal age to buy tobacco products in Michigan did so last week. On August 4th the Ann Arbor City Council voted 9-2 to increase the smoking age to 21 years old.
Beginning January 1st 2017, any retailer within the city limits of Ann Arbor will be prohibited from selling tobacco products or electronic cigarettes to customers under the age of 21. Retailers effected by the ordinance will need to post signage alerting customers of the new minimum age to buy tobacco products or electronic cigarettes. The punishment for retailers who sell to anyone under 21 years of age is a $500 fine. The punishment, previously on anyone 18 years of age or younger caught with tobacco products or electronic cigarettes has been eliminated. The punishment was not modified to apply to anyone 21 and younger. Instead it was completely eliminated.
Backed by health activists and an organized group looking to increase the smoking age across the country to 21 years old, the Ann Arbor ordinance is filled with mostly commentary and health data to show the necessity for the increase in the age restriction.
MIRA has seen the trend of increasing the smoking age becoming more prevalent across the county. Hawaii was the first to impose such a regulation on the state level followed by California, while several municipalities have taken the matter into their own hands by passing local ordinances. Unfortunately, for retailers in the states where local governments are creating a patchwork of regulation it becomes very hard to compete with retailers outside the local governmental units where 18 is still the minimum age required to buy tobacco products.
As of April of this year our members in Cleveland were subjected to the same type of locally adopted ordinance. More than 100 local governments across the US have adopted an increase in the smoking age. Most all of them target the retailer as opposed to the juvenile caught with the product while being underage.
MIRA is working with partners in the industry to consider how to handle the situation going forward. Tobacco products and the taxation of these products (especially smokeless tobacco) as well as efforts to restrict the purchase of e-cigarettes to those 18 years and older have been a long standing battle between the legislature and the Governor here in Michigan. Any statewide legislation to deal with this situation will likely ignite intense debates about e-cigarette regulations and tobacco taxes.