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    Tackling Tobacco: February 2016 Legislative & Regulatory Roundup

    Several states, cities consider raising buying age to 21.

    NATIONAL REPORT — Tobacco legislation and regulation is constantly under review at the local, state and federal levels. In this monthly roundup, Convenience Store News highlights the latest proposals and approved changes happening across the United States. 


    Berkeley The Berkeley City Council unanimously approved a plan to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products and electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21. The change is slated to go into effect Jan. 1, 2017. Berkeley lawmakers acknowledged, however, that they might have to revisit the change considering the protest taking place around a similar move by lawmakers in Healdsburg, Calif.

    Passed in October 2014, enforcement of its age increase has been suspended as the National Association of Tobacco Outlets is protesting the change, asserting that cities lack the authority to raise the minimum purchase age from what the state sets. Healdsburg has asked the California Attorney General for guidance on the matter, but has yet to receive a response.

    San Francisco The city Board of Supervisors' land use and transportation committee unanimously approved increasing the legal age to buy tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, in San Francisco from 18 to 21. The full board was expected to vote on the proposal on March 2. Under the proposed legislation, retailers who sell tobacco products would be given a one-year grace period, during which no one would be penalized for selling tobacco to anyone 18, 19 or 20. Enforcement would then begin after the first year.


    Boise An Idaho House panel introduced a measure that would regulate electronic cigarette sales under the same statute as nicotine and tobacco products. The legislation would help prevent electronic cigarette sales to minors, while also creating a state database of retailers that sell the product, the panel stated. If passed, the bill would require retailers to register with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.


    Springfield — The Illinois Senate is reviewing a bill that would make it illegal for anyone under age 21 to purchase tobacco products and electronic cigarettes. Senate Bill 3011, sponsored by Sen. John Mulroe (D-10th District), would raise the minimum legal age from 18. Six more senators have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, which had its first reading on Feb. 18.

    The statewide push follows a similar proposal made by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last month. In 2014, the city of Evanston became the first in Illinois to increase its legal buying age to 21.


    Des Moines — A move to push the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 from the current age of 18 failed in the Iowa Senate on Feb. 17. The measure was sponsored by state Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-23rd District), but a subcommittee that reviewed Senate File 2016 declined to advance the bill. Quirmbach indicated he may reintroduce the legislation in 2017. A bill to increase the age to 19 also failed last year.


    Olathe — The Olathe City Council voted 6-1 to change the city's ordinance to increase the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. The change went into effect Feb. 8. The move is part of Tobacco 21|KC, a campaign launched in the fall to get every municipality in the metropolitan area to raise its legal age for buying tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21, the same as it is for alcohol.


    Marion — Legislators in this Massachusetts city have given a collective nod to hiking the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. The town's Board of Health unanimously approved the change at its Jan. 26 meeting. The change applies to all traditional tobacco products, as well as electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. The new law was set to go into effect March 1.

    A first violation carries a $100 fine, while a second violation within 36 months would result in a $200 fine, as well as a suspension for seven consecutive business days. Should a retailer sell to a person under 21 for a third time within 36 months, the fine would increase to $300 and the tobacco sales permit would be suspended for 14 consecutive days.


    Gladstone — City lawmakers approved an ordinance making it illegal for anyone under 21 to buy tobacco products. The new law was scheduled to go into effect March 1. Gladstone is the fourth municipality in Missouri to adopt a Tobacco 21 regulation. Kansas City, Mo., passed its own Tobacco 21 ordinance in November.


    Dover — On Feb. 10, the Dover City Council voted unanimously to ban the use of electronic cigarettes where regular cigarettes are already banned on city property. Any violation of the new ban could result in a fine of $50 for a first offense and $100 for subsequent offenses.


    Trenton — A state Assembly committee has resurrected an effort to hike the legal age to buy tobacco in the state after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar move in the last legislative session. The Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee voted 10-3 in favor of a measure to raise the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21. 

    If enacted, New Jersey would become the second state, after Hawaii, to set a statewide minimum purchasing age of 21.


    Salt Lake City — The Utah Legislature is considering House Bill 157, which aims to increase the minimum legal age to buy tobacco and related products from 19 to 21. If it was to pass, the bill would take effect July 1, 2018. The measure is sponsored by state Rep. Kraig Powell (R-54th District).

    State lawmakers are also expected to consider bills that would raise the tax on electronic cigarettes. Two different proposals in the legislature would each add an 86.5-percent tax to e-cigarettes, putting them on equal tax footing as tobacco products. One proposal would apply the tax revenue toward rural health programs, while the other would use it to pay for an extended Medicaid program.


    Richmond — The Virginia General Assembly voted down a bill that would have prohibited the use of electronic cigarettes in restaurants and many other public places in the state. By an 8-4 voice vote, the Senate's committee on local government set aside the legislation that sought to include restrictions on e-cigarettes in the state's Clean Indoor Air Act.


    Charleston — On Feb. 23, the West Virginia Senate approved a bill to raise the state's cigarette levy by $1. The vote was 26 to 6. The bill also includes increases in tax rates for other tobacco products, including snuff and vapor products. The increases take effect April 1. The bill was presented to lawmakers on behalf of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin as part of his plan to balance the 2016 and 2017 budgets.

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