MERIDEN — The City Council’s Human Services Committee voted unanimously this week to raise the age to purchase tobacco and vape products locally from 18 to 21.
If the full City Council agrees at its next meeting, Meriden would join a growing number of municipalities raising their tobacco-purchasing age to 21.
In December, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams declared vaping an epidemic, citing statistics that show teen use of e-cigarettes increased by 78 percent in the past year. He also urged municipalities to take action, such as bans on indoor vaping and retail restrictions.
Meriden’s ordinance would ban the sale of all tobacco and vaping products to persons under 21 and would take effect within 180 days after City Council adoption. A person or business who sells tobacco to someone under 21 would be issued a written warning, followed by fines of $100 and $250 for a second and third offense.
"The city recognizes that youth vaping is an epidemic,” City Health Director Lea Crown said this week. “Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States. Increasing the sale age for tobacco products to 21 is a promising intervention to reduce youth tobacco use initiation, and a way to reduce the staggering healthcare cost, death, and suffering from tobacco-related illness.”
Although there is limited local data on teen vaping, the latest survey of Meriden students found 8.9 percent in grades 7 through 12 used a vaping device in the previous 30 days. Proponents of raising the age to 21 hope it will deter children from becoming addicted at an early age.
Hartford became the first Connecticut municipality to raise its tobacco purchasing age to 21 last year. Surrounding municipalities, including Southington and Wallingford, have also recently passed similar local ordinances.
Earlier this year, the Health Department used an online survey to gauge attitudes on raising the age to 21. A total of 68 percent of respondents favored the move.
Only one member of the public, a representative from the American Cancer Society, attended a public hearing held Monday prior to the Human Services Committee vote, according to Crown.
While teen use of traditional cigarettes continues to decline nationwide, teen use of e-cigarettes has sharply risen in recent years in large part because the e-cigarettes come in flavors like cucumber, mango, and creme brulee. E-cigarette manufacturers have also been accused of launching ad campaigns targeting younger audiences in an attempt to hook a new generation of tobacco users.