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Palmetto is ready to raise the legal age for buying tobacco to 21

Palmetto may be the next city to join a national trend in raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21.

Driven by the recent spike in teen vaping and related health impacts, local governments are passing ordinances to prevent young adults from obtaining tobacco products and forming harmful addictions.

The buying restrictions include e-cigarettes, vaping products, traditional cigarettes and anything that includes nicotine.

During a Palmetto City Commission workshop on Monday, assistant city clerk Amber LaRowe made the case for adopting an such an ordinance within city limits.

“Tobacco companies target kids and young adults to recruit replacement smokers to protect their profits,” LaRowe said during a presentation. “Increasing the age to 21 will help to counter those efforts.”

LaRowe said she learned that states and municipalities have the power to raise the tobacco buying age while attending a recent class on social issues.

LaRowe then teamed up with Ally Bergmann, associate director of Drug Free Manatee, to work on a proposal for an ordinance.

“I can attest that this is an effective environmental strategy,” Bergmann said.

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Drug Free Manatee associate director Ally Bergmann, left, and Palmetto assistant city clerk Amber LaRowe, right, advocated for raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21 within city limits at a Palmetto City Commission workshop meeting on October 21, 2019. Ryan Ballogg rballogg@bradenton.com

Bergmann cited past measures that the city has taken to curb youth drug use, including requiring vendors who wished to sell alcohol at public events to take safety courses and a citywide ban on the sale of medical marijuana passed in 2017.

According to LaRowe and Bergmann, the age increases have yielded positive results in cities, counties and states around the country.

One example they gave was Needham, Mass., which was the first town to adopt such an ordinance in 2005. A study found that smoking decreased at the local high school by about 47 percent, and youth smoking rates also dropped across the entire community.

Another major goal of the age increase is to prevent older high school students from buying tobacco products for would-be underage smokers.

The proposal met with full support from city commissioners, and LaRowe and city staff will now move forward with drafting an ordinance.

If the city commission passes such an ordinance, Palmetto would become the second Florida city to do so.

Fort Lauderdale passed an ordinance in September. Alachua County, the home of University of Florida, has such an ordinance in place county-wide.

A bill that would have raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco statewide passed the Florida Senate in April, but the measure died on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives. The bill also would have wrested control of setting tobacco-buying age ordinances away from local governments.

Ryan Ballogg covers arts, entertainment, dining, breaking and local news for the Bradenton Herald. He has won awards for feature writing and environmental writing in the Florida Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism Competition. Ryan is a Florida native and graduated from University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
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