Jefferson City raises minimum age to purchase tobacco

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JEFFERSON CITY- People who bought a pack of cigarettes on Monday may soon find it harder to do so now.

The city council approved an ordinance Monday night increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The council voted 6-4 in favor of the measure. The age limit will go into effect immediately and applies to tobacco, alternative nicotine, vapor and tobacco paraphernalia.

Businesses who violate the measure face a $100 fine, followed by a $250 fine for a second violation within a two-year period and a $500 fine for subsequent violations.

Local group Jefferson City Council for Drug-Free Youth was an advocate for the ordinance to pass. Executive Director Dr. Joy Sweeney says high school students took attention of the nationwide effort of Tobacco 21 and coordinated with the group to bring it before the council and hold town hall meetings.

"We wanted to get feedback from them as well as to share information about why this is so important to invoke in our community," Sweeney said. "This ordinance really does reduce youth starting to use tobacco."

The ordinance will not ban the possession of tobacco products for 18 to 20-year-olds. Some council members cited this as well as what they feel is government overreach as reasons for voting against this.

"I think that if we're going to decrease tobacco use that we need to continue to give our youth more education, more healthy initiatives," Ward 3 Council Member Erin Wiseman said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first smoked by age 18. In 2015, about seven percent of middle school students and about 25 percent of high school students reported trying some type of tobacco product. While cigarette smoking has decreased among middle and high school students between 2011 and 2015, use of electronic cigarettes and hookahs have increased in the same time period.

Jefferson City is the 11th city in the state to adopt a Tobacco 21 policy. Columbia was the first in the state to pass one in 2014.