Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has called for raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21, a proposal that’s included in Ohio’s biennial budget bill. But anti-smoking groups in the state have actually testified against the proposal.
These groups believe that the proposal would mostly punish youth for underage sales but would do little to punish retailers for illegal sales.
“Those of us who work on this issue every day in venues around the country recognize this bill as unacceptable by today’s standards,” said Wendy Hyde of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation. “Simply changing ‘18’ to ‘21’ without changing the structure of licensure and enforcement would be meaningless.”
During a May 5 testimony on House Bill 166, Hyde said that “penalties for illegal sales to persons under age 21 should be placed on the retail owner who makes a profit from illegally selling harmful and deadly products rather than on the clerk or the youth.”
“Penalties for repeated violations must result in meaningful fines and be followed up with license suspension for those few retailers who refuse to comply. Penalizing youth is not an an effective strategy for reducing youth smoking,” she said.
She went on to call for removing penalties on youth from the proposal, saying “penalties are not shown to be effective in reducing youth smoking.”
“In addition, they undermine other conventional avenues of youth discipline, divert attention from more effective strategies, and relieve the tobacco industry of responsibilities for its marketing practices of attracting youth to its addictive and harmful products,” Hyde continued.
Dustin Holfinger, state government relations director for the American Heart Association, also expressed concern with the proposal.
“We believe that the skeletal changes found in the as-introduced version of HB 116 required additional clarification and substance for them to be truly effective,” he said while testifying before the House Finance Committee. “Specifically, we ask that the Committee consider supporting amendment HC1923, which amends the language further to remove youth penalties.”
He also called for changing the language to ensure that penalties “for underage sales are placed on the retailer, not the purchaser,” except in cases when false identification is provided.
The budget bill has since passed out of the House and is now in the Senate, though Senate Republicans told The Cleveland Plain Dealer that they haven’t yet had a chance to debate the proposal.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “Wendy Hyde” by Tobacco 21.