Young Columbia smokers go outside city limits to buy cigarettes

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COLUMBIA - Some smokers found themselves, yet again, too young to buy cigarettes in Columbia Tuesday.

The Columbia City council voted 6-1 Monday night to change the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. The ordinance restricts buying electronic tobacco products and chewing tobacco, as well as traditional cigarettes. KOMU 8 News spoke with affected smokers and store employees and received a mix set of reactions.

Columbia resident Justin Shelton, 20, started smoking about two years ago.

He said, even though his fiancé told him about the change, he wasn't sure about the details when he left to buy a pack of cigarettes Tuesday morning. He said when he tried to make the purchase, he was declined.

"The woman was like, ‘I cannot sell you tobacco products' and I said 'ma'm I'm 20 years old,'" he said. Shelton said the woman explained the change and directed him a mile up the road to Mari's, a convenience store just outside of city limits.

"It was the closest store I could get to," he said. "It's kind of all right, I didn't have to come too far, but it's still not where I wanted to go."

Despite the inconvenience, Shelton said he understands the ruling because he already knows too many high school students, that are in his opinion, picking up the habit too young.

"Kids shouldn't be smoking cigarettes anyway," he said. "I think this was the right thing to do it at 21."

Mari's employees said they've already seen a lot of new faces in the store. One said cigarettes are already a popular purchase and she expects the numbers to grow with the new Columbia ordinance.

Smoker Jesse Stockwell said he also went to Mari's Tuesday because of the new ordinance. 

"It's a big inconvience to me and other smokers," he said. "I don't think it's going to change anything. I think it's a pointless act."

KOMU 8 News visited Maris' and more than half a dozen other stores in and outside of city limits Tuesday afternoon. None of the managers or employees at those gas stations and convenience stores would comment on camera about the change. However, they had mixed reactions to the change. At one store, an employee said he thought the change began in the New Year; another said she hadn't heard about the change at all.