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Tempe City Council raises tobacco purchase age, local owners speak on the effects

Tempe approved a new ordinance to raise the age of tobacco sales from 18 to 21; some local shop owners aren't against it

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A sign located expressing thanks for “helping keep ASU remain a tobacco-free and vapor-free campus.” off East University Dr. on the Tempe campus Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.

The City of Tempe voted to raise the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21 and place a new license fee on sellers. The council voted on Oct. 26 in a unanimous vote to approve the ordinance. 

Tempe City Council's Human Services and Community Safety Committee, led by councilmembers Doreen Garlid and Joel Navarro, proposed the ordinance in an effort to "decrease youth tobacco and e-cigarette use." 

The ordinance comes after findings were published from surveys the council collected throughout the year. In the meeting, council members Garlid and Berdetta Hodge voiced their support for the ordinance. 

"This is the first step," said Councilmember Doreen Garlid. "I think it's really just a beginning for us and you know ... I'm still interested in, looking at banning flavored, all flavored tobacco."

In 2019, the tobacco purchasing age was federally raised to 21. Tempe residents and business owners said they were surprised to find out that the legal age was still 18 in the city. 

"It should have already been 21," Meg Kelly, a local smokeshop employee, said. "It’s kind of shocking that it wasn’t already." 

Concerns about tobacco use, specifically with vape products, rise with minors

Andrew Dennie, the manager of Haus of Vapors in Phoenix, said that he understood the city council’s efforts to try to decrease youth tobacco use. 

Dennie said that his shop did not sell to people under 21 before the ordinance and knows other smoke shop owners did the same.

"We want to stay vigilant on, you know, being mindful of the community ... like me personally, just because I vape doesn’t mean I want my little brother to vape," Dennie said. "I want them to make better decisions."

According to Tempe’s demographics, the average age of a resident is 28 years old. There are six college campuses in the city where the population is overwhelmingly made up of young people. Studies show that nearly 24.2% of college students say they use tobacco products on a daily basis. 

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 14.1% of high schoolers have used e-cigarettes along with 3.3% of middle schoolers. Tempe took note of that and attempted to ban the sale of e-cigarettes completely in 2022. 

READ MORE: Tempe City Council pivots to restrictions instead of bans on vape and tobacco

The ordinance not only affects consumers but also retailers by requiring a $300 license fee for shops that want to sell tobacco-related products. According to the ordinance, the fee would be used to "cover the administrative cost for licensing administration, any required education and training and any unannounced compliance checks." 

While this means that the new fee will add on costs for shop owners, Dennie said that it could be worse. 

"$300, that's probably like a minimal. I mean, they could like charge like $1,000,” Dennie said. "I'm grateful that it's so low."

Jason Horn, the owner of High Maintenance Smoke Shop, said that fees could affect his business income but saw the ordinance as a compromise between banning certain products altogether.  

"That's definitely going to hurt," Horn said. "However, anything that we can do to stay away from banning certain things altogether, they have talked about that. If this tax helps remove that conversation, then yes, we're good with it." 

Stores that are caught selling tobacco products to underage individuals could face fines and a three-year suspension from selling tobacco products. 

Horn said that while the law is in place, it is also the job of smoke shops to be weary of who they sell to.

"It should be on the license holders who are taking the obligation to make sure that they ID who they're selling to." 

Edited by Alysa Horton, Sadie Buggle and Angelina Steel

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