DC Council debating to raise age to buy tobacco products to 21

- A tougher tobacco regulation is making its way through the D.C. Council that would increase the legal age for smoking from 18 to 21.

Supporters on the council say it will reduce smoking while critics say fining young people is not the solution. But everyone on the council agrees – smoking is dangerous and keeping young people from starting is important.

The full council debated the issue recently and some raised the issue that the civil penalty written in this bill would give an underage smoker who buys tobacco a $50 fine. However, the fine for smoking marijuana in public in D.C. is only $25.

D.C. Councilmember Yvette Alexander said this legislation is about sending a health message.

“Because a lot of kids start smoking at 15 and 16 years old, if we up the age to 21, we think it will eradicate a lot of teen smoking and a lot of addiction from nicotine,” she said.

Alexander, who is the head of the Committee on Health and Human Services, said she will agree to reduce the smoking fine to $25 under this bill.

But Councilmember David Grosso said fining younger smokers does nothing except to possibly introduce them to the criminal justice system.

“I’m the chair of the Committee on Education and I see what the impact of the cumulative piling on of fines, fees, penalties into a youth’s mind, and eventually we know whether it is suspension, expulsion or something like this where they are stopped by the police and they are told they are wrong and given a fine and citation – this begins that slippery slope I think down into the juvenile justice system,” Grosso said.

Putting this new law in place will also come with a hefty price tag for the city’s budget. Cigarettes generate big tax revenue and it is estimated $5 million could be lost.

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