City Council considers raising age for smoking

Rise of popularity in vaping sparks talk of move to 21


It may take a few years longer before a teenager can legally light up in Surprise.

The City Council is considering joining about a handful other Arizona cities that are making it harder for young people to smoke tobacco by raising the age to 21.

At a City Council Work Session on Nov. 5, Brian Hummel,  the Arizona government relations director for the American Cancer Association, urged them to pass a Tobacco 21 initiative, which calls for a licensing program for tobacco retails, considers e-cigarettes a form of tobacco and raises the age from 18, among some of its aims.

“It’s becoming an epidemic,” Mr. Hummel told the Council.

The raise in popularity of e-cigarettes, or vaping, has led to the immediate concern in some cities. Tucson, Flagstaff and Goodyear are among five Arizona cities that have already passed the so-called T-21 legislation.

“It sounds like you want to regulate this like you regulate alcohol,” Vice Mayor Roland Winters said to Mr. Hummel.

Mr. Hummel said it would be slightly different because the license fee would be less than somebody who sells alcohol, but there would be stiff penalties for smoke shops that break the law.

Councilman Patrick Duffy asked Mr. Hummel why the rates are going up for tobacco usage, but Mr. Hummel said the study samples aren’t yet big enough to show the reasons why yet.

Councilman Dave Sanders said he can see it everyday with his own eyes.

“I don’t know this to be fact, but it appears I’m seeing more e-cigarette usage than regular cigarettes,” Mr. Sanders said.

Vaping became a fad just a few years ago when Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro, made a $13 billion investment in JUUL for 35% of the company.

The fad of vaping, plus enticing flavors, and the potential to be able to hide marijuana concentrates in the vape pens, has added to the popularity.

It’s also made them available to high school children who still associate with 18 year olds on campus.

“You do a lot of growing up between 18 and 21,” Mr. Sanders said.

Mr. Hummel said the race to figure out a solution is needed because the stats on cancer are still grim.

The American Cancer Assocaition said more than 37,000 Arizonans will be diagnosed with new cancers this year. 

About 30% of those are expected to be tobacco-related.

In fact, lung cancer, which is usually tobacco-related, is the second-most common form of cancer, behind female breast cancer.

More people in Arizona will have a tobacco-related cancer this year than melanoma, colon or prostate cancer or even leukemia.

And even worse, tobacco-related cancers are the second leading cause of death in Arizona.

Proponents of raising the federal age of tobacco use to 21 want to put it on line with alcohol and recreational marijuana in the states that have it and medicinal marijuna in places like Arizona.

Advocates are also pushing to limit or prohibit the flavors to help turn away younger kids.

“Smoke-free ordinances, we know those help reduce tobacco use,” Mr. Hummel said. “So obviously we have a strong statewide law ­— you can’t smoke in enclosed spaces — and we know that helped drive down the smoking rate in our state.”

Councilman Chris Judd said the lack of enforcement is a real problem, not the age. He said the difference between 18 and 21 is “saying you’re an adult, but you’re not really an adult.”