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Akron Raises Minimum Age To Buy Tobacco To 21

Mark Urycki

Akron’s minimum age to buy tobacco products will increase from 18 to 21. But opponents and even some supporters are expressing reservations.

After a month of debate, the final Akron City Council vote was eight in favor, three opposed and two abstentions. Among the opponents was Marilyn Keith, who questioned why the city should block what would otherwise be a legal sale to an adult.

“I believe that if I am for this legislation, I am saying that adults at 18, 19, and 20 are incompetent and cannot make this decision for themselves, so we must make it for them,” Keith says.

But Dr. Rob Crane of Ohio State – and the head of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation – said the change is actually to help younger children, for whom 18-to-20-year-olds are often a conduit.

“They are the major suppliers, the 90 percent suppliers to young people,” Crane says. “And we know that, the data shows us that if you raise the age to 21, you reduce high-school smoking by half.”

Miyoshi Ward was one of those advocating the change. She started smoking when she was 14 and says she worries about the pressure on kids like her 16-year-old son.

“We’ve got the eighth graders and the 11th graders all combined in one school,” Ward says, “and they see things like, ‘Oh, our friends are smoking. Maybe I want to try it.’”

The Summit County Public Health Department will be in charge of enforcement. It will spend the next six months working out the rules and setting up education efforts with retailers.