By SHERIDAN ROY
The Town of Southington could soon implement a new age minimum for purchase of tobacco products, including vaping products.
The ordinance committee last week heard a presentation from the Southington Town-wide Effort to Promote Success (STEPS) coalition along with other members of the public regarding a proposed ordinance to increase the minimum age for sale of tobacco products in town from 18 to 21.
After hearing the presentation, the proposed ordinance went before the Town Council, who set a public hearing for the proposal for March 11 at 7 p.m.. A formal vote would take place after the public hearing either that night or at a later date.
“The need for the ordinance arose because so many kids today are involved in vaping,” said STEPS president Chris Palmieri, also chair of the town council. “It seems to be a new thing, and the STEPS coalition wanted to make sure we addressed it.”
According to data supplied to Palmieri through the Superintendent of Schools, in the current school year, 23 high school students and 16 middle school students have been disciplined for some type of vaping incident.
Palmieri said the city of Hartford has passed an ordinance like this already, and many other communities are working towards the same concept.
“I didn’t even realize that towns had the ability to do this, so I worked with the STEPS advisory board and we did some research,” he said. “We took Hartford’s ordinance and tweaked it a bit.”
Palmieri added STEPS hoped to be “very well aware” of the issues within the community as a substance abuse prevention coalition.
“We think from a prevention aspect that anything we can do to reduce access is a step in the right direction,” said STEPS youth prevention coordinator Kelly Leppard. “We know from research how harmful cigarettes, smoking, tobacco and vaping can be, especially on developing youth. We are proud to be in this community where leaders are hearing our message and are proactive.”
The ordinance language states that tobacco is the foremost preventable cause of premature death in the United States, responsible for more than half a million deaths per year in the U.S. and costing the nation approximately $300 billion in healthcare and lost worker productivity costs each year. It also states 95 percent of all adult smokers began smoking before the age of 21.
“There is strong evidence that those who begin smoking at an early age are more likely to develop a severe addiction to nicotine than those who start at a later age,” states the ordinance.
A 2017 study, the Connecticut school health survey, indicated over one-third of Connecticut high school students—nearly 59,000—report having ever tried some form of tobacco, and current tobacco use was reported at 17.9 percent. The survey also indicated the vast majority of youth who reported using tobacco products are using flavored tobacco products, such as vaping.
If the ordinance is adopted by the Town Council, it will be enforced by the Southington Police Department. Retailers engaging in the sale of tobacco products would need to secure a license from the Plainville-Southington Regional Health District. Each violation of the ordinance would be considered a separate municipal offense, punishable by a fine of the maximum amount allowed by the Connecticut General Statutes.
The ordinance would take effect upon adoption by the town council.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.