The Southington Town Council passed an ordinance that would raise the age of purchase for tobacco products, including vaping and e-cigarette products, to 21. The vote passed 8-1 with Mike Riccio (R) casting the dissenting vote.
The original ordinance text was altered slightly after a motion made by councilor Tom Lombardi (R) to remove one sentence which stated permits for selling tobacco products would only be available for business owners over the age of 21.
“This is an important issue, but I can’t allow this to pass if that line is included,” he said. “We can’t take that right away from a business owner. I don’t want to hurt owners who are ages 18, 19 or 20.”
The ordinance falls under municipal power under public health and safety, according to town attorney Carolyn Futtner. Other Connecticut municipalities have taken on similar ordinances, including South Windsor, Hartford and Bridgeport.
“The community has to rally around this,” said councilor Chris Poulos (D), who also is a high school teacher. “I have asked my students how often they see students vaping in the bathrooms, and the response is nine out of 10 times or even 10 out of 10. Anything we can do to stop this is our responsibility to the youth of our community.”
Several letters of support were submitted to the council from organizations including the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society and Tobacco 21. The initiative was brought forth by the Southington Town-wide Effort to Promote Success (STEPS).
Member of the STEPS Youth Council Sarah Meade said the ordinance would help prevent substance abuse among youth.
“By raising the age of purchase of tobacco from 18 to 21, it will help protect and prevent students my age—the people I go to school with, future generations and underclassmen below me—to have better health and safety for their futures,” said Meade.
A few councilors did have some hesitation to passing the ordinance.
“I think it’s well-intended, but in a perfect world, I’d rather see this done at the state level,” said William Dziedzic (R). “I also would’ve liked to hear from business owners. There’s no one here from our local businesses that would be affected.”
Dziedzic questioned what would happen to tobacco selling businesses that are located near town borders if Southington has this ordinance but a neighboring town does not.
Lombardi said if the vaping issue is growing in schools, perhaps more severe consequences for students should be implemented.
“If the school issue is such a problem, maybe we should get up in front of the board of education and start expelling these kids who are bringing these products to school,” said Lombardi. “Let’s not fool ourselves saying this is going to be the solution long-term. We talked about kids being the victims of marketing, but at some point society has to take a step back and say kids have to learn that they’re responsible for their actions.”
Councilor John Barry (D) said it is “clear that these companies are using deceptive advertising practices” to lure young people to use their products.
“You see they sometimes resemble juice boxes or candies,” he said. “This is a real problem throughout our country and this is a good step in the right direction.”
Councilor Mike Riccio questioned what age qualifies someone to truly be considered an adult.
“We need to have a conversation in society about what is a legal age to become an adult because I don’t think anyone has confidence in an 18 year old for what he or she does for himself,” he said. “At 18, you’re not an adult.”
He added lawmakers in Connecticut are going to be at an “interesting crossroads” when it comes to conversations about legalizing marijuana and also raising the age of purchase for tobacco products.
The new ordinance will take effect 20 days after Monday’s vote (March 31). Permits will be distributed from the Plainville-Southington Regional Health District. Businesses with current permits will not have to pay for new permits.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.