A movement to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 has reached Mid-Michigan.
The Genesee County Board of Commissioners approved the resolution with a 7-2 vote on Feb. 14.
The ban would restrict the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. Current law allows anyone 18 or older to purchase tobacco.
The rule takes effect in 90 days, on May 15, and will apply to all areas within Genesee County. Sellers would be fined $50 for a first offense, $100 for their second and $200 for every offense following. Tobacco users under the age of 21 would not be punished.
Ann Arbor passed a similar ordinance earlier in the year and Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette said the city cannot ban the sale of tobacco to 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds.
Schuette said Ann Arbor's ordinance conflicts with state law, which preempts local rules.
"There's a lot of concerns about the health effects. We have recommendations everywhere from our health department on up saying that this is a good thing," said Mark Young, county board chairman.
More than 16,000 Michigan adults die from smoking related diseases every year. By making 21 the minimum age to buy cigarettes, local health authorities said hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved including those born from 2000 to 2019.
"You know that puts my grandson in there. So that's very important to me. I've always been a non-smoker and I believe that we need to protect our young," said Ellen Ellenburg, vice chair of the Genesee County Human Services Committee.
In 2008, Needham, Mass. was the first community to move in this direction, alongside a nationwide movement called Tobacco 21.
Health officials said the measure caused smoking use to drop threefold compared to surrounding Massachusetts communities.
However, not all commissioners were on board with adopting a drastic policy change without public approval. Commissioner Drew Shapiro said he supports Tobacco 21, but he would like residents to have a chance to vote.
"Potentially this law number one, doesn't go far enough. Number two, I think it can be an overreach by the Board of Commissioners," Shapiro said.
Shapiro also said he has concerns about costs the county could incur by enforcing such a policy change.
Commissioner David Martin was the other board member to vote no.
"I think it's an excellent idea. Maybe it will deter kids from wanting to try it at all," said Aneta Wilkerson, in support of resolution.
She hopes the new regulations will help keep cigarettes out of the hands of more young adults.
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