Cedar Hills • This city became the second in Utah to pass an ordinance setting 21 as the minimum age for buying tobacco and e-cigarettes, up from the statewide age of 19.
The policy change was approved in a unanimous vote of the City Council on Tuesday night — just one week after nearby Lehi adopted its new tobacco ordinance.
Cedar Hills Mayor Jenney Rees said she was attending an event at the Utah County Health Department with Lehi Mayor Mark Johnson and several other city officials when she became aware that raising the legal tobacco purchasing age can be done on the city level.
“I’m happy to be right there with [Lehi]. We wanted to make sure that we do it right and we knew the wording that we needed," Rees said, “so it feels great to be able to copy along with what Lehi is doing.”
Lehi and Cedar Hill’s new policies are similar, with just a few text changes.
City planner and manager Chandler Goodwin clarified that Cedar Hills’ ordinance does not criminalize tobacco use, it just prohibits youths from purchasing tobacco and e-cigarette products.
“Our intention in drafting this as code is not to criminalize a social cigarette — for example a 21-year-old handing a 19-year-old a cigarette,” he said. “It is really the point of sell on that transaction at tobacco retail.”
Brook Carlisle, government relations director at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action network, indicated her support for the policy and said 95 percent of adult smokers become addicted before they turn 21.
“A lot of those kids become regular daily smokers between 18 and 21, so the longer you can keep tobacco products out of the hands of youth the less and less likely they will ever become a daily smoker,” Carlisle said.
As of last week, there were 425 cities and counties in 23 states that have adopted so-called tobacco 21 policies.
Brian Miller, Cedar Hills council member, said that although he generally hesitates when passing ordinances that infringe on personal choice, he doesn’t believe the tobacco age increase falls under this category.
“I try to take a good look anytime we are passing regulation that steps on someone’s liberty to choose something. But when it is the No. 1 cause of preventable death and it affects us all, that is a community interest, that is a government interest,” Miller said. “I think this is an instance where it is appropriate for us to step in.”
Cedar Hills’ policy takes effect immediately but will not be enforced for 60 days to give tobacco retailers time to adjust.
Connor Boyack, president of the libertarian-leaning Libertas Institute, said he is not convinced cities have the legal authority to bypass state law and implement 21 as the legal age for tobacco.
“While it might feel good and empowering for cities to proceed down this path on their own and circumvent the state Legislature, cities are political subdivisions of the state and can only operate with authority that the state has granted to them,” Boyack said.
“If [18- to 20-year-olds] can sign contracts and go to war and possess lethal firearms and so forth, it seems rather ridiculous to criminalize their use of tobacco,” Boyack said. “We have an age of legal adulthood and every time we deviate from that, we are departing from any clear principled basis for determining who should be able to possess what.”
Boyack, who lives in Lehi, said his focus has been on the ongoing legislative session, where Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, has introduced a bill, HB324, proposing to enact a statewide law setting the minimum tobacco age at 21.
If Eliason’s bill passes and becomes law, the city policies would be irrelevant. But if the statewide legislation fails, Boyack said he likely will pursue legal challenges against the municipalities that passed the new minimum age, especially if more cities follow the path blazed by Lehi and Cedar Hills.
Ryan Bartlett, spokesman for the state Health Department’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, said last week that local ordinances establishing a higher minimum age for tobacco than state law are legally sound because the statute is not pre-emptive. Cities can adjust the legal age up from 19, but they can’t lower it.
More recently, Bartlett said he knows of other cities and towns looking to raise the legal age for tobacco and e-cigarettes, but the coalitions working on the issue “are a bit leery about the names of these cities and towns being released at this time.” That’s because details are still being worked out, and they don’t want to prematurely attract the attention of tobacco lobbyists.
Marc Watterson, director of government relations at the American Heart Association, presented at both the Lehi and Cedar Hills council meetings.
He said the American Heart Association has concerns about Eliason’s bill and the impact it could have on ordinances already passed by local governments.
“For us, it is the local cities and counties that are most aware of what is going on in their community and they are best able to rapidly respond to those concerns,” Watterson said. “We are very much for trying to reduce youth usage, but not at the expense of rolling back local policies.”
Editor’s note: Brook Carlisle is the spouse of a Salt Lake Tribune reporter.