Retailers push back against proposed SA tobacco sales age hike

SA Metro Health District proposing raising age from 18 to 21

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SAN ANTONIO – They take up just a little bit of wall space in his shop, but cigars and cigarettes pull in good money for Anwar Tahir.

"My average business is, you can say, 25-30 percent is tobacco," Tahir said at his store, Leal Food Mart, on Leal Street.

But Tahir, the president of the Association of Convenience Store Retailers, is concerned he could see a sizable chunk of their tobacco revenue disappear if the age to buy it is raised from 18 to 21 years old in San Antonio, as the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District proposes. He believes a ban will handicap San Antonio retailers compared to their competitors in other Bexar County municipalities.

"The business will go across the street if there's a smoke shop, a gas station, a grocery store," he said. "So I will lose the business, and it will go to the other city."

Tahir said he plans to be at a town hall meeting about the proposed change on Thursday night in opposition. If the age has to be raised, he said, it should happen on a state level, suggesting a resolution instead of an ordinance.

"It has to be across the board, not just across the street. The guy is selling more cigarettes than I'm not selling. I have to pay my bills, too," Tahir said.

Tahir said he would lose more than the tobacco revenue if the age limit is raised. He would lose out on the money from anything else an 18- to 20-year-old smoker might buy, too.

"So when they come in, of course, they buy soda, chips and other grocery," Tahir said. "It's not going to hurt only the cigarette sale."

Metropolitan Health District Director Colleen Bridger has been focused on a different kind of hurt, though — the kind caused by tobacco.

The overall goal of raising the sale age, she told KSAT on Oct. 26, is to decrease the number of smokers, 95 percent of whom started before they were 21 years old.

"If we can stop that, we're going to decrease smokers and users of other tobacco products significantly, which is going to improve the health of the community," she said.

While the talk has revolved around raising the age on tobacco sales, a Metro Health spokeswoman said it's possible that could extend to possession or consumption of tobacco.

Even if that's the case, Tahir doesn't believe that would stop people from buying tobacco elsewhere and bringing it back into the city.

Metro Health will host a town hall meeting on the proposal from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at La Orilla Del Rio Ballroom at 203 S. St. Mary's St.

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