SAN ANTONIO - As the City Council prepares to vote on raising the age for sale of tobacco from 18 to 21, there's no plan for extra enforcement to keep 18- to 20-year-olds from simply buying it elsewhere.
"We're just using what's already existing," said Dr. Colleen Bridger, director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, referring to current, underage enforcement efforts.
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Bridger and Metro Health are pushing for San Antonio to become the first city in the state of Texas to raise the age to buy tobacco to 21 years old, an initiative that is part of a nationwide campaign called Tobacco 21.
But with numerous municipalities that surround, or even exist within, San Antonio's city limits, opponents believe the ordinance would just push young tobacco users to buy from other retailers outside the city and bring it back to San Antonio.
"If the person is not buying in city of San Antonio, he's going to go across the street, and he can purchase the product from there," said Anwar Tahir, the president of the Association of Convenience Store Retailers.
It would still be illegal for an 18- to 20-year-old to bring tobacco back into city limits. A draft ordinance provided to the City Council includes a prohibition against the possession and use of tobacco by people under 21 years old.
Bridger recommends mandatory smoking cessation classes as punishment for young violators. A $250 fine and no punishment at all are other options.
However, the Metro Health director said she is not recommending the city make any additional enforcement efforts against the young tobacco users beyond what it does now for those under 18 year olds. Instead, it will focus on the retailers' compliance.
In any case, Bridger does not expect it to be much of a problem.
"What we've seen in the 280 other cities that have passed Tobacco 21 is that there isn't a lot of bleed over into other cities to purchase tobacco products," she said.
There are also plans beyond the city limits that could limit how easily young tobacco users could circumvent a San Antonio ordinance.
"This is the start of an effort to bring all of the municipalities in Bexar County and Bexar County into agreeing with this ordinance as well," Bridger said.
The City Council could vote on the age change as soon as Dec. 14.
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