CINCINNATI — A city law banning the sale of tobacco products to people under 21 became redundant in October, when Gov. Mike DeWine made the same change effective statewide. Cincinnati's law, however, comes with an extra provision: Tobacco retailers must register with the city or face fines.
That, along with the cost of losing 18- to 21-year-old customers’ business, became a “huge concern” for Lo Blow Tobacco owner Shauna Bleh as December neared.
“They’re upset,” she said of her younger one-time customers. “Some of them feel like, ‘I turned 18, you’re telling me I’m an adult, but yet still the one thing that I did have, I can’t do now.’”
Still, she said, she’s duty-bound to obey the law. New signs emphasizing the new age limit hang in her shop’s windows.
“As a business, we are working on that and moving forward,” she said. “At the end of the day, the law is the law, and we have to follow that.”
About 73 of Cincinnati’s 450 tobacco retailers had acquired the mandatory licenses by Friday. Over a dozen more remained pending. The first fine for noncompliance is $500; the next is $1250.
Tonia Smith, manager of the Cincinnati Health Department’s Healthy Communities Program, said she understands retailers’ worries.
“We do understand that this is new, and we don’t want retailers to be afraid,” she said. “They’re required to have the license, but we’re being patient and willing to help them.”
Raising the minimum age to legally purchase tobacco is an approach based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 90% of smokers have their first cigarette by 18, and those who start youngest have the hardest time quitting later in life.
“Tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death in our country,” Smith said. “So there’s a huge toll related to tobacco use in our communities.”