Bridge­port de­bates hik­ing cig­a­rette sale age

The News-Times (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 Bridge­port’s City Coun­cil.

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

Hartford was the first in the state to en­act 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.

But 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 co-chair­man 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-and-older 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 had 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. He, and two non­com­mit­tee mem­bers — Coun­cil­man Kyle Lan­gan and Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Aidee Nieves spon­sored the pro­posed age in­crease.

But Brown and Coun­cil­man Ernie New­ton, an­other smoker, were skep­ti­cal of any pos­i­tive im­pact the higher age limit would have.

“I’ll sup­port this leg­is­la­tion but we’ve passed a lot of leg­is­la­tion that don’t stop peo­ple from do­ing what they want to do,” New­ton said. “The black market is gonna have a field day. ... If they (res­i­dents un­der 21) do have a nico­tine prob­lem, they’re go­ing to find what they’re look­ing for and they ain’t gonna go to no treat­ment.”

Brown said 18-year-olds will sim­ply ask 21-year-olds to pur­chase cig­a­rettes for them.

“It’s not as if we’re in­flict­ing some­thing on th­ese young peo­ple,” Spain said, push­ing back against Brown’s amend­ment. “We shouldn’t have ‘the Bridge­port ex­cep­tion’.”

Lan­gan said that he smoked when he was younger and “got my cig­a­rettes from an 18year-old I knew.” He said he was un­com­fort­able of­fer­ing an ex­emp­tion be­cause, as a teacher, he wanted to do what­ever he can to pro­tect his stu­dents’ health and safety.

But, Lan­gan ad­mit­ted, he un­der­stood Brown’s point about ex­pect­ing ad­dicted smok­ers of a cer­tain age to quit be­cause they can sud­denly no longer legally buy tobacco prod­ucts: “You can’t tell that per­son to stop. They can’t stop.”

Brown also said he is wor­ried about the im­pact on lo­cal busi­nesses. And New­ton also ar­gued that 18-year-olds can en­list in the mil­i­tary.

Coun­cil­woman Michelle Lyons told New­ton that join­ing the mil­i­tary and smok­ing “are choices — but one be­comes an ad­dic­tion. I will be in fa­vor of any­thing that can pro­tect our youth.”

Brown, New­ton, Coun­cil­woman Ros­alina Ro­man-Christy and Brown’s com­mit­tee cochair, Coun­cil­woman Eneida Martinez, all voted for the amended age limit law. Spain, Lyons and Coun­cil­woman Maria Valle op­posed it be­cause it had been al­tered.

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