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Members of Athens City Council during council's meeting on Jan. 16. (FILE)

City Council: Members hear presentation about increasing tobacco age to 21

Athens residents could one day have to wait until they are 21 to purchase tobacco, as Athens City Council members heard a presentation on Monday night about raising the minimum age.

Athens City-County Health Department Representative Kari Boyle told council members that adopting Tobacco 21, an initiative that seeks to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18  to 21, could protect younger teens from addiction. 

“It’s definitely a gateway drug,” Boyle said.

The initiative is mostly aimed at stopping smoking, the leading cause of preventable disease in the United States, from affecting high school students.

The age to buy e-cigarettes and vapes would also be raised to 21.

Initiatives to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 have spread to multiple states and cities across the country. In Ohio, multiple cities including Cleveland, Columbus and Akron, have adopted Tobacco 21 ordinances.

No ordinance regarding the initiative is on the table at this time.

Council members also passed a resolution in support of Ohio House Bill 160, also called the Ohio Fairness Act, that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender. 

“Athens has a long history of being very inclusive,” Councilman Samuel Crowl, D-3rd Ward, said.

The resolution comes just a week after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding. 

This is far from the first time such legislation has been attempted. Lawmakers have been trying to pass similar legislation for some time, but it has repeatedly failed. In January, Ohio House Bill 160 was the first bill of its kind of receive a committee hearing since 2009. 

A much-debated ordinance changing the way vendors can pay to park uptown was shot down with a 4-2 vote.

“It protects the public’s right to use public parking spaces,” Councilman Pat McGee, I-At Large, said before the ordinance was voted down.

“It’s overly complicated,” Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, said.

Fahl said addressing a small part of a bigger problem, like addressing the way vending works in Athens, isn’t the right way to create change.

“I think we need to look at the whole process,” Fahl said. 

The ordinance would have allowed the public to park in spaces reserved for vendors, like the Burrito Buggy, on Sundays and after noon on normal days. 

McGee has long said the city loses money for the prime parking spots when vendors don’t use their reserved spaces on Union Street by College Green. 


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