Hartford Becomes First CT Town To Raise Tobacco Purchasing Age To 21
Hartford Courant, October 24, 2018
By Jenna Carlesso
Hartford on Monday became the first municipality in the state to ban the sale of tobacco products to people younger than 21, a benchmark its leaders hope other Connecticut cities will emulate.
The city council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance that raises the legal age to purchase tobacco goods to 21, up from 18.
Hartford’s ordinance prohibits city businesses from selling products such as cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco or pipe tobacco to people younger than 21. It also bans the sale of vaping products, which contain nicotine, to those under 21.
About 240 establishments are licensed to sell tobacco products in Hartford, according to data from the state Department of Revenue Services.
The ordinance takes effect immediately, though enforcement will not begin until April. Fines of $250 may be levied for each violation, and the city could suspend tobacco licenses for store owners who flout the mandate.
Hartford’s health and human services department is responsible for performing at least two unannounced checks per retailer each year. Liany Arroyo, director of the department, said city workers routinely inspect Hartford establishments, and the tobacco compliance checks would not pose a problem. The city will work with area youth groups to conduct sting operations.
Hartford officials have pointed to a state survey that put the rate of smoking among adults (people 18 and older) in Hartford at 23.5 percent, higher than the statewide average of 15.3 percent. They did not have data that focused solely on people aged 18 to 20.
“We know the tobacco industry uniquely targets young people to replace consumers dying from their products, and too many of our children are becoming addicted before they even have a chance to grow up,” said Bryte Johnson, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Connecticut. “But if kids don’t pick up a tobacco addiction during their vulnerable adolescent and teenage years, they’ll be less likely to do it when they’re 21.
“This ordinance has the potential to reduce smoking rates in Hartford and ensure our kids live longer, healthier lives.”
Evelyn Levesque, a student at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, beamed after the council approved the ordinance Monday. The 16-year-old said she lost her grandfather to lung cancer.
“I have seen it firsthand — an 18-year-old or senior in high school buying it and then giving it to my friends,” she said. “That scares me.”
Businesses are uneasy back to top
Some business owners have already begun to dread the change. They worry they’ll lose customers to neighboring towns, and that their bottom line will take a hit. People younger than 21 can still smoke in the city, even though they won’t be able to buy tobacco.
Peter Patel, who owns the Mobil Mart on Washington Street, said his shop has lost $14,000 to $15,000 a month since the city last summer denied him a permit to stay open 24/7. He was forced to start closing at 11:30 p.m. Citing concerns about violence and late-night disruptive activity, Hartford leaders refused to grant the permits to Patel and 12 other gas station owners.
Patel called the tobacco ordinance “another gimmick” by the city. “Fewer businesses are going to come here if this continues,” he said Monday.
Dominic Vallera, owner of the Shell station on Capitol Avenue, has said raising the minimum age wouldn’t significantly affect cigarette sales, but his store would lose revenue on e-cigarettes and other tobacco products.
“It’s not helping us pay our bills to the city,” he said.
“I’m hearing that people think it’s a gateway for younger people who are smoking cigarettes to smoke other stuff,” he said. “I think at 18, people are capable of making decisions to smoke or not smoke.”
Councilman Larry Deutsch, who floated the ordinance, acknowledged that it would not stop Hartford residents from smoking, but he hoped it would prevent some teens from taking up the habit.
“We readily admit that if someone wanted to go to Newington or West Hartford and bring cigarettes back, they could,” he said. “This is just a step in the direction of limiting access.”
Deutsch last spring introduced a plan to ban vaping in public spaces citywide, though he has shelved that effort in favor of the tobacco ordinance.
Advocates hope Hartford’s new law will become a model for other municipalities. A town council member in Bloomfield introduced a plan Monday to ban the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices, to people under the age of 21 in town.
A bill raising the legal age to 21 statewide failed to clear the General Assembly this year.