SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio is on the way to joining 13 other large cities and five states around the nation that ban tobacco sales to people under 21 years of age.
Results from an online survey conducted by San Antonio Metro Health show that 77 percent of the 5,447 people who responded support raising the minimum purchasing age from 19 to 21 years.
Only 22 percent said no.
Metro Health director Dr. Colleen Bridger said the results reflect the results of a national and statewide survey. “Ninety-five percent of people who currently smoke started before they were 21,” she said. “If we can stop that, we can decrease smokers and users of other tobacco products significantly, which is going to improve the health of the community.”
The ages of those who responded yes to the change were from under 17 to 60 years of age, with the majority being Hispanic and non-Hispanic white. The biggest support came from those who were college graduates.
The ordinance change would apply to all tobacco products including, electronic cigarettes and vapes.
Business owners have reached out to the city to express their concerns.
“Eighteen- to 20-years-olds whose brains aren’t developed shouldn’t be exposed to addictive substances,” Bridger said.
To those who make the argument about 18-year-olds being allowed to join the U.S. armed forces but not allowed to smoke, she said military leaders support the change.
“Smoking is prohibited during basic training,” she said. “They're spending billions of dollars a year on health care and other costs associated with tobacco use. They would prefer that none of their recruits smoked.”
Smoker Lee Polinar started when he was 16 because of peer influence.
“I know when I was young it was easy to get an adult to get (cigarettes) for me or sneak them out of whoever had them,” he said, adding that laws aren’t going to stop kids from having access to tobacco.
The city will host several community meetings, including an online forum, in a few weeks, before the case is made to the City Council at the end of November.
Council will vote on Dec. 7. If the ordinance is approved, there will be a six-month soft launch before it goes into full effect in the summer.