BY BTL STAFF
ANN ARBOR – Beginning on Jan. 1, 2017 Ann Arbor will be the first city in Michigan to join the national Tobacco 21 movement and ban the sale of tobacco to people under 21.
The ordinance was introduced by Council Member Julie Grand, D-3rd Ward, to raise the minimun age to purchase tobacco products in the city from 18 to 21. The City Council approved the measure Aug. 4 in a 9-2 vote.
City officials have told MLive that they don’t care if the new ordinance conflicts with state law and might cause the city to end up in court.
Supporters of the new ordinance argue that it will make it harder for teens to get their hands on cigarettes and will help prevent early tobacco addiction and save many lives within the Ann Arbor community.
“The tobacco lobby has inflicted enough misery on this country and I’m happy to do anything we can to play a leadership role on this effort in Michigan,” Council Member Kirk Westphal, D-2nd Ward, one of the co-sponsors of the ordinance said at the Aug. 4 meeting.
City officials hope that more Michigan communities follow Ann Arbor’s example and adopt Tobacco 21 and that it eventually becomes state law. However, Tobacco 21 has many barriers before it can be completely implemented into state law.
The Michigan Tobacco Products Tax Act of 1993 directly states that local governments “shall not impose any new requirement or prohibition pertaining to the sale or licensure of tobacco products for distribution purposes.”
Executive Director of Tobacco-Free Michigan, Angela Clock, testified Aug. 4 and said that Michigan’s Tobacco Products Tax Act of 1993 actually places limits on how tobacco distributors are regulated, not on retail sales.
Council Members Jack Eaton and Jane Lumm voted against the ordinance citing concerns that the new ordinance and Tobacco 21 contradict state law and worry that the change will land the city in court.
Council Member Sumi Kailasaphathy, D-1st Ward, stated that if the city is going to end up in court, that it’s a fight worth having. She said that after careful consideration of the legal risks to the ordinance, she decided that it’s morally and intellectually the right thing to do.
Earlier this year in an effort to end nicotine and tobacco addiction for LGBT Michigan residents, LGBT community centers across the state teamed up to provide a multitude of programs and cessation techniques to help smokers quit.
While overall rates of consumption have been slowly reduced over time, rates in certain target groups, such as the LGBT community, remain higher than average.
Twenty-one percent of Michigan residents continue to engage in tobacco consumption and nearly 30 percent of LGBT individuals in the state consume tobacco, making tobacco use a leading cause of excess, preventable mortality among LGBT people.
In 2013, Affirmations partnered with the Michigan Department of Community Health, Perceptions in Saginaw and the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, to produce a study on smoking rates among LGBT living in Michigan. Results from the study found that smoking rates amongst the Michigan LGBT community remain significantly higher than rates for the state at large.
Opponents say that regardless of the new ordinance, those under 21 who want to purchase tobacco products will just drive to nearby communities.
The new ordinance repeals penalties for underage possession of tobacco products. Instead, penalties are limited to retailers, who could be assessed up to $500, allowing for discretionary actions including education and warnings.
Transportation companies and vending machine operators are exempt from the new city regulation.