Big tobacco law changes are coming. Will it help Ohio youth?

Starting this week, anyone under the age of 21 will not be allowed to buy, own or use tobacco or smoking products such as vaping pens as Ohio joins a growing number of other states enacting Tobacco 21 laws.

Ohio is the 18th state to raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. Ohio’s ban includes vaping products, cigarette rolling papers and other accessories related to smoking.

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The state law change, signed by Gov. Mike DeWine in July, goes into effect Thursday and comes as teen smoking rates rose to more than one in four high schoolers and one in 14 middle school students in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think giving kids a few extra years to mature and maybe make better decisions is probably a really good idea,” said Deb Scheetz, marketing manager at Dayton Children’s Hospital. “I keep hearing everyday about more vaping deaths. I think that there’s a lot that we just don’t know and we assume things are safe and they’re really not.”


3.62 million: Middle and high school students using e-cigarettes


Research shows nicotine use can rewire a young brain to crave more and emerging evidence suggests e-cigarettes may be harmful to lungs, according to the Federal Drug Administration.

The FDA reports 3.62 million middle and high school students use e-cigarettes and the use is increasing. In 2018, nearly 21% of high school students used e-cigarettes, up from 11.7% in 2017, according to the FDA.

More adults smoke in Ohio, 21%, than compared to the national average of 17%, according to the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit organization “inspiring tobacco-free lives.” Smoking-related health-care costs in Ohio are estimated at $5.64 billion a year, according to the nonprofit.

Retailers across the state are putting up new signs and training workers on the new restriction. The law change means less revenue for many business owners but it’s not expected to be a significant loss, according to Alex Boehnke, public affairs manager for the Ohio Council or Retail Merchants.

OCRM did not lobby for or against the law change, but Boehnke said having the same rules for everyone is better than individual municipalities, such as Columbus and Cincinnati, passing Tobacco 21 laws while others do not.

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“It’s about certainty and uniformity across the state,” Boehnke said. “If you’re a retailer in Dayton and a retailer in Cleveland, you are operating under the same set of rules. that’s the thing we’re always seeking.”

The law change does present challenges for store clerks, according to Tony Garafolo, night manager at the B&B Carryout on Ohio 73 near Waynesville.

Call Ohio Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW anytime for help quitting smoking or the use of other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

“We have customers who we’ve been selling to for two years who we won’t be able to sell to anymore,” Garafolo said.

Garafolo estimated they’ll see about a 10 percent drop in sales on tobacco and smoking products, including the more expensive JUUL e-cigarettes.

“Those sales will drop off,” he said. “The vaping is primarily that age group, but that age group is experimenting with everything.”

RELATED: Greene County joins push to raise legal age to buy cigarettes, vapes to 21

In some ways retailers will have an easier time, as those over the age of 21 have horizontal driver’s licenses and those under 21 have vertical state IDs and driver’s licenses, according to Kirsten Bean, public health educator in Greene County.

“It is our hope that Greene County will see results similar to those in other states where T21 has been enacted — A reduction in youth initiation of tobacco use,” Bean said.

Public health agencies across Ohio are giving retailers guidance on what to expect under the new law. There will be random compliance checks at stores, in which undercover, underage persons will attempt to buy a smoking or tobacco product.

“This helps incentivize store managers to properly train staff not to sell to individuals younger than 21,” Bean said.


18: Number of states with similar laws


According to the law, if a person under 21 is found in violation, they could be fined up to $100 and be forced to complete a smoking education or treatment program if one is available. If court orders are disobeyed, the offender may be required to perform 20 hours of community service and have their driver’s license or learner’s permit suspended for 30 days, according to the Ohio Revised Code.

Caitlein Troutman, who works at the Vape Haus on Watervliet Avenue in Dayton, wonders how effective the law will be, when older friends of teens and even their parents will buy smoking and tobaco products for them.

“I think it’s dumb that you can fight for your country but you can’t smoke or vape. A lot of my customers have said that,” Troutman said.

A toll free hotline will be active for the next few months for anyone with questions about the law change (855) OHIO-T21 (6446-821).

Dayton Daily News Reporter Sarah Franks contributed to this report.


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