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County votes to raise smoking age to 21

NATCHEZ — Teens in Adams County itching to buy that first legal cigarette the second they turn 18 will have to wait at least three more years — at least outside the Natchez city limits.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to raise the legal tobacco use age in Adams County to 21, making it the first such county in Mississippi to do so.

“I like being the first in the state when it comes to things like this,” said Supervisors President Mike Lazarus, who first proposed the change in the law.

The catch to the ordinance, however, is that it doesn’t apply inside the Natchez city limits because under state law the city has local control, board attorney Scott Slover said.

Under the adopted measure, anyone who sells tobacco products to someone younger than 21 will be subject to a $500 fine and a 30-day ban from employment at any tobacco retailer for the first offense and a $1,000 fine and a 90-day ban for the second and subsequent offenses.

Following the adoption of the ordinance, the board voted to send a copy of the resolution to the Natchez city government — which has offices across the street from the supervisors — and request the city aldermen do the same.

When Supervisor Calvin Butler raised concerns about the enforcement of an ordinance that only applied to a handful of stores outside the city limits, Lazarus said the measure “sends a statement.”

“I can’t imagine the city not following suit,” he said. “I want them to call me and give me one good reason why not.”

The board took the vote after a public hearing about the matter, during which members of the community spoke in favor of the measure but none spoke against it.

Lazarus said he received one email in opposition to the measure, with the author saying allowing younger smoking will address overpopulation by weeding out people who would make bad decisions.

After the meeting, Lazarus said one retailer called him to express dissatisfaction with the decision.

Madeline England, the community health director for the Mississippi State Department of Health’s District VII, spoke in favor of the measure.

“The whole history of the anti-tobacco movement has been small victories over time,” she said.

“In terms of retail impacts, most immediate loss of sales would be 2-percent of sales, assuming 18-year-olds are smoking across the board the amount of cigarettes sold to them. The same objections were raised when the national proposal for alcohol use was brought up, and obviously the national alcohol industry is flourishing.”

Paige Dickey, the director of the Tobacco-Free Coalition of Adams, Franklin and Jefferson counties, said most adult smokers become regular smokers before the age of 21.

Lazarus said he knows some teens will still find a way for others to buy them tobacco products, but by raising the purchasing age the county may still be able to curb some use.

“It’s all about the peer group,” he said. “Think about who hangs out with 18-year-olds — 16- and 17-year-olds, and that’s who’s buying cigarettes for those teenagers. Twenty-one-year-olds don’t hang out with 18-year-olds, and that will curb it because they don’t hang out together.”

Lazarus said he doesn’t “want to take rights away from anybody,” but has not spoken to a smoker who was glad they started the habit.

“This just seems to be the right thing to do,” he said.

Lazarus said he would contact vendors in Louisiana to discuss the move Adams County has taken.

Alabama recently raised the legal tobacco use age to 19, and the State of Hawaii raised the legal smoking age to 21 in June.

A total of 135 localities in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Ohio have enacted similar measures.

 

 

 

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