Multimedia Journalist

Tobacco purchase age increased to 21 in Eldon

Following a Tuesday vote, any person looking to purchase tobacco products in Eldon now must be older than 21.

The Board of Aldermen voted 6-0 Tuesday to increase the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21.

“I couldn’t tell you how proud I am to be a member of this community,” Miller County Health Center Administrator Mike Herbert said. “The implementation of Tobacco 21 is another clear indicator that the city of Eldon wants to be an even better place for us to live, work, play and raise our families.”

Members of the community applauded the board after the matter was approved.

“I think its a good thing for our children,” Mayor Larry Henderson said.

The ordinance includes the creation of a tobacco control board consisting of the city administrator, city marshal or police chief, and city attorney. The board will issue licenses to retailers.

On Feb. 11, representatives from Eldon High School, the Miller County Health Center and the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation detailed how problematic tobacco in e-cigarette products has been for local youth.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health’s Missouri Student Survey found 16.8 percent of the 489 Miller County youth surveyed in 2018 believe someone would be considered “pretty cool or very cool” for smoking e-cigarettes.

Columbia passed an ordinance in 2014 raising the city’s tobacco purchase age to 21. The Jefferson City Council approved a similar ordinance in 2017.

On Tuesday, Stan Cowan, tobacco control policy researcher for the University Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine, provided the board with more information on how retailers play a role in youth access to tobacco products.

“We do have a problem with Eldon,” Cowan said. “While in the United States we see a 9.9 percent violation rate of retailers selling to underage youth — in Eldon, it’s 21 percent.”

After contacting several school districts in the state, Cowan said a large percentage of seniors turn 18 before they graduate high school. The city said increasing the age makes it more difficult for 16- or 17-year-old’s to pass as legal purchasers and buy products for underage youth.

Enforcement of the ordinance states compliance checks will take place at least twice a year. Any violation of the ordinance will result in a fine no less than $300 for the first violation. If a retailer receives four violations within a 36-month period, the city will issue a fine of $1,000 and revoke the tobacco retail license.

Aldermen and Henderson said, while considering the change, they did not receive much feedback — negative or positive — from the community on increasing the sale age.

“Not one person has called me or talked to me about not making the ordinance,” Henderson said.

The Miller County Health Center Board of Trustees is in favor of a countywide ordinance but is encouraging cities to take the first step.

If other cities in Miller County pass a citywide ordinance without a countywide ordinance, businesses outside city limits would not be affected.

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