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DeWine wants to hike tobacco use age from 18 to 21

By Tom Jackson • Mar 21, 2019 at 2:00 PM

Gov. Mike DeWine wants to raise the minimum age in Ohio for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21.

“The governor is concerned about improving our public health outcomes,” said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for DeWine.

DeWine wants to apply the new higher age for buying tobacco products such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco and using vaping products with nicotine.

Tierney said fewer than half of adult smokers, 47 percent, became regular smokers before they were 18. But four out of five adult smokers, 80 percent, became regular smokers before they were 21. That suggests that 18 to 21 is when many people transition from being occasional to regular smokers, Tierney said.

The governor is concerned about how smoking contributes to the cost of Medicaid and the public health system, and also thinks raising the age for tobacco might help the effort to reduce infant mortality in Ohio, Tierney said.

Ohio residents are not allowed to consume alcohol until they are 21.

The governor’s budget proposal, released last week, predicts raising the age to use tobacco would reduce excise tax revenues in 2020 by $14.3 million and would cut state sales tax revenues by $2.8 million.

Pete Schade, Erie County’s health commissioner, said he supports raising minimum tobacco age.

“I think it’s a good idea to try to keep it out of the hands of as many kids as possible,” Schade said.

The health department, working with local law enforcement agencies, uses grant money to test whether local stores comply with the existing minimum age. Teens are sent to the stores to try to buy tobacco products, Schade said.

“Overall, our stores do a good job,” Schade said. “There’s always a mistake that can be made.”

State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, said she doesn’t smoke and said other members of her family don’t smoke, including her college-age children.

But Gavarone said she wonders if raising the age for using tobacco would mean that young smokers will cross the border to buy their cigarettes in states such as Michigan and Indiana.

If people do smoke, “I prefer they spend their money in Ohio,” Gavarone said.

State Rep. Steve Arndt, R-Port Clinton, said he hasn’t thought much about the issue yet.

People can’t drink until they are 21 but they can get married at age 18, he said.

Arndt said if the age limit is raised, many young people likely will continue to smoke.

“I’m not sure it would accomplish a whole lot,” he said.

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