Lebanon City Council to discuss proposal to increase legal tobacco age to 21

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/20/2020 10:38:25 PM
Modified: 1/20/2020 10:38:23 PM

LEBANON — Lebanon soon could raise its minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 under a new ordinance proposed by Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital and public safety officials.

The proposal comes even as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month increased the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 nationally. The change took effect when President Donald Trump signed a budget deal Dec. 20.

The proposal for Lebanon also would require those purchasing tobacco — including cigarettes, e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco — to be at least 21 years old.

Stores found selling tobacco to minors could be fined $50 for a first offense and $100 for any subsequent offenses, according to a draft ordinance the City Council will discuss Wednesday. The draft does not include penalties for possession.

“Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and in New Hampshire, killing more than 480,000 people nationwide and 1,900 in the Granite State,” hospital spokesman Peter Glenshaw and Liz Swanton, its community relations and volunteers specialist, wrote in an October letter to the city.

Most people begin smoking before 21, they wrote, adding that delaying access to tobacco to 21 “helps significantly reduce their likelihood of smoking.”

The letter listed as supporters Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello; Susanne Tanski, a pediatrician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center; Kate McNally, tobacco treatment coordinator at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center; and Lebanon Partners United for Safety and Health.

“I think it’s a great proposal,” Lebanon Mayor Tim McNamara said Monday. “Anything we can do to keep tobacco out of the hands of younger people is a very good thing.”

Lebanon already has acted to reduce smoking in its public spaces, with the City Council opting in 2017 to ban the practice in parks and outside city-owned buildings. APD and DHMC also ban smoking on their Lebanon campuses.

Some merchants question why Lebanon is proceeding.

“It’s a waste of time. The federal government’s already gone up to 21,” Bruce Bergeron, owner of the Lebanon-based Jake’s stores, said Monday.

Bergeron said the federal move was surprising to many stores, which received little to no notice before the new rules were implemented.

It’s been particularly confusing for vendors in New Hampshire, where a state budget deal last year increased the tobacco age to 19, he added.

While federal law trumps state law, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission has said it’s awaiting more guidelines from Washington before enforcing the FDA regulations.

“We’re awaiting guidance from the FDA on the rules that apply to the new national age limit as relate to our enforcement efforts in the state,” spokesman E.J. Powers told the Concord Monitor earlier this month.

“That created, for those of us in New Hampshire, some confusion for sure,” said Bergeron, chairman of the New Hampshire Grocers Association.

Still, Jake’s stores and many others in the Granite State no longer sell to those under 21, he added.

Even if that’s the case, McNamara said, he’s not opposed to raising the tobacco age locally.

“I don’t see any harm in us doing it as well,” he said.

Several stores in West Lebanon — including The Beverage King, Walgreens, and the Jolly convenience store — now only sell tobacco products to customers who are 21 and over, store clerks said Monday.

Un-Dun, which sells vaping materials, has several signs alerting patrons they must be 19 to purchase tobacco. Employees there declined to comment Monday, and an email sent to owner Christine Clarenbach was not returned.

The Lebanon City Council is scheduled to discuss the proposed change at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the auditorium of the former Seminary Hill School, now home to SAU 88 offices.

The city would be required to hold a public hearing on the matter, tentatively scheduled for early February, before the ordinance could take effect.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

Valley News

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