Hartford City Councilors Vote to Raise Legal Age to Buy Tobacco

The Hartford City Council voted Monday night to raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21.

Hartford will become the first city in Connecticut to raise the legal buy age.

The City Council voted unanimously in favor of that ordinance, but critics say the move will hurt Hartford retailers, because those between 18 and 20 can just go to another city or town.

“I lost my grandfather to lung cancer and he started when he was really young peer pressured into smoking,” said Evelyn Levesque, a student at Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts.

For the 16-year-old, it’s a fight that’s personal. She and her father got to see their fight pay off Monday when the Hartford City Council approved increasing the age limit to buy tobacco and nicotine products to 21 and older.

“I have seen it firsthand an 18-year-old or a senior in high school buying it and then giving it to my friends,” Evelyn said. “And that scares me that really scares me.”

“Now you take that age of being able to buy tobacco and pull that out of the high schools,” said Roger Levesque, a volunteer at American Cancer Society Action Network.

Supports of the ordinance say 95 percent of all adult smokers began smoking before the age of 21.

Councilor Larry Deutsch introduced the amendment.

“Nicotine habit is dangerous, dangerous for your health, for the whole state's economy,” Deutsch said.

Not everyone supported the amendment. The National Association of Tobacco Outlets sent councilors a letter saying it will hurt retailers, that tobacco sales account for up to 40 percent of in-store sales.

For Sam’s Quick Stop, that number is closer to 80 percent.

“It will drive the business away absolutely,” explained Raed Rayeshey. “Basically you guys going to close the door and go home.”

Rayeshey said he would support the age increase if it was statewide, but a local ordinance just hurts local shops because those 18 to 20 can just go to another town or city.

But supporters say they had to start somewhere.

“We hope this is going to be the stepping stone,” Roger Levesque said.

Mayor Luke Bronin will sign the amendment into law in the next seven days. He released the following statement:

“Tobacco 21 has earned unanimous support on our City Council and our team will work in the coming months to implement this ordinance. Cities and states across the country had already taken this step based on compelling public health research, and I hope that Connecticut follows our lead and passes Tobacco 21 on a statewide basis.”

Bloomfield’s Town Council heard a proposed ordinance inspired by Hartford’s Monday night, and it was referred to the admin and education subcommittee.

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