WALLINGFORD — A local restriction on selling tobacco products to anyone under age 21 would be worth it if it stops even one sale to a youth, Town Councilor Christopher Shortell said Thursday during an ordinance committee meeting.
But other councilors weren’t convinced the change is a good idea.
The ordinance would raise the minimum legal age to purchase any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, vaporizers and flavored nicotine pods, from 18 to 21.
The town council’s ordinance committee is slated to review a draft of the ordinance, and possibly vote on it, on Feb. 5.
Janis M. Small, town corporation counsel, said there are about 400 similar ordinances in towns and cities nationwide. In October, Hartford became the first Connecticut municipality to ban selling tobacco products, including vaping devices, to anyone under 21.
Small said police would issue infractions for violations.
“The health and well-being of our children is paramount,” said Police Chief William Wright. “We have a good relationship with tobacco retailers. We do some tobacco compliance checks, and typically we have very few in violation of state law.”
The idea for raising the age limit came out of a presentation by Coalition for a Better Wallingford to the town council in October.
Councilor Craig Fishbein raised a concern that the ordinance would be “severe overreach” and not prevent an underage person from buying tobacco products online, or from obtaining the products from an older person.
“I’ve sort of convinced myself to be against this,” he said. “If our intent is to prevent someone from 18 to 21 from possessing and using (tobacco), that does not prevent a 23-year-old from purchasing and giving it to someone younger.”
Councilor Joseph Marrone said the ordinance would be “a feel-good move” with no impact.
“I don’t see how it’s enforceable,” he said. “It’s easy to drive to Meriden or North Haven… The message is not going to be received by the people who need to hear it.”
Councilor Jason Zandri said that seatbelt and alcohol laws “didn’t happen overnight.”
“We can always change these things as we go,” he said.
Councilor Gina Morgenstein said Wallingford can “get ahead of what state is doing.”
Councilor John LeTourneau said youth vaping is reaching “epidemic levels. The sooner we can help, the better we are.”
Martin Pazzani, co-owner of Silver City Vapors, said his business won’t be greatly impacted if the age is raised to age 21. He presented a box mod vaporizer, which he views as a smoking cessation device, and a Juul vaporizer, which are marketed to a different set of customers.
Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni said that going forward, the council should think about the burden it could create.
”As much as I support the health concerns, I don’t want to burden business owners,” he said.
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