Across the country many municipalities and states have passed laws raising the legal smoking age to 21. Raising the minimum age to 21 to purchase and/or use tobacco products is a promising strategy to reduce smoking and other tobacco use among youth. California and Hawaii have both passed laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco to those under 21, along with 200 other cities across the nation following suit, all citing health risks as a major reason.
Raising the legal smoking age is rapidly gaining momentum in Michigan as well. Recently, the City of Ann Arbor and Genesee County have enacted ordinances prohibiting the sale of tobacco to persons under 21 years of age in their jurisdictions. Supporters insist that the measure will make it harder for teens to get cigarettes, help prevent early tobacco addiction and save lives. However, Michigan law states the legal age to purchase and/or use tobacco products is 18 years of age. On February 2, 2017, Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a legal opinion regarding a potential conflict that exists between state law and local Tobacco 21 ordinances. Specifically, the Attorney General opined that ”the ordinance directly conflicts with state law by barring the sale or furnishing of tobacco products to 18 to 20 year olds because the Age of Majority Act prohibits treating these young adults differently from persons 21 years and older with respect to their legal capacity to purchase tobacco products.” See the Age of Majority Act, 1071 PA 79, MCL 722.51 et seq.
Despite this legal opinion that state law preempts the local ordinance, the local Tobacco 21 ordinances in both Genesee and Ann Arbor remain in place. Therefore, enforcement actions under the local Tobacco 21 laws remain uncertain. The Tobacco retailers located in jurisdictions with local Tobacco 21 laws should contact the local enforcement agency with any questions about compliance with the local law. In Ann Arbor, please contact Chief of Police Jim Baird at 734-794-6920, and in Genesee County, call 810-257-3194.
Meanwhile, retailers located in other areas of the state where Tobacco 21 ordinances are not in effect should continue to do their part, in support of federal and state law, by checking identification to ensure they don’t sell tobacco products to anyone younger than 18 years of age.