Bridge­port de­bates hike in age limit for cig­a­rette sales

Greenwich Time (Sunday) - - NEWS - By Brian Lock­hart

Smoke ’em if you got ’em — and if you are at least 21 years old, ac­cord­ing to a pro­posed lo­cal law head­ing to the Bridge­port City Coun­cil.

The coun­cil’s Or­di­nance Com­mit­tee this week voted 4-3 to make Bridge­port the sec­ond mu­nic­i­pal­ity in Con­necti­cut to raise the age limit for pur­chas­ing cig­a­rettes, e-cig­a­rettes and other nat­u­ral or syn­thetic tobacco prod­ucts from 18 to 21.

Hartford was the first in the state, en­act­ing sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion in Oc­to­ber.

“What we are propos­ing is re­ally to re­strict the ac­cess of youths ... to th­ese prod­ucts,” Mar­itza Bond, Bridge­port’s health di­rec­tor, told the com­mit­tee.

She cited a 2017 Con­necti­cut Youth Tobacco Sur­vey that found younger teenagers have ac­cess to such prod­ucts through older high school friends.

“We’re not re­ally try­ing to tar­get cur­rent smok­ers,” Bond added.

The pro­posal, sched­uled for a Jan. 22 pub­lic hear­ing, was wa­tered down fol­low­ing a de­bate sparked by some coun­cil mem­bers with nico­tine habits.

Coun­cil­man Mar­cus Brown, a com­mit­tee cochair­man and smoker, suc­cess­fully amended the age in­crease to ex­empt any­one 18 years old as of the date the law would take ef­fect if ap­proved by the full coun­cil.

“What hap­pens to the 20-year-old (who has been) smok­ing for two years?” Brown said in de­fense of his change, adding later: “We are lit­er­ally telling peo­ple what they can or can­not do at an age they were do­ing it al­ready.”

Brown’s amend­ment mir­rored a bill de­bated this year by the state leg­is­la­ture to pro­hibit cig­a­rette sales statewide to those un­der 21. That leg­is­la­tion did not pass, leav­ing the mat­ter up to in­di­vid­ual cities and towns to reg­u­late.

Bond vowed in an in­ter­view af­ter the Or­di­nance Com­mit­tee’s ap­proval of Brown’s amend­ment to lobby the full coun­cil to re­store the stricter 21-an­dolder rule be­fore fi­nal pas­sage.

“I have a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old,” Bond said. “I would not want them to be ad­dicted at such a young age.”

That is the case she and other sup­port­ers of the age in­crease made — that it will strengthen a na­tion­wide ef­fort to pre­vent youths from tak­ing up smok­ing and those that al­ready do to per­haps kick the habit.

Coun­cil­man Peter Spain, who said his fa­ther died from lung can­cer that spread to his brain, ar­gued that Bridge­port, by join­ing hun­dreds of other cities na­tion­wide that have changed the le­gal age for pur­chas­ing tobacco, will be part of “a cul­tural shift.”

“We’re mov­ing the nee­dle,” Spain told the Or­di­nance Com­mit­tee.

Brown, Ernie New­ton, Ros­alina Ro­man-Christy and Eneida Martinez all voted for the amended age limit law.

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