Portland First in Maine to Raise Age to Buy Tobacco to 21

Portland, Maine, joins a growing list of cities around the country raising the age to buy tobacco products

A well-meaning Portland, Maine ordinance meant to curb smoking may actually limit access to a popular method of quitting.

Monday night, the Portland City Council voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance that raises the age for purchasing tobacco products in the city to 21. It goes into effect in 30 days, and will impose fines on violators.

The goal, according to Public Health Director Toho Soma, is to save lives.

"We know that 90 percent of regular tobacco users start before the age of 21," said Soma.

He said the ordinance also applies to E-Cigarettes or vaporizers. The devices allow some users to "vape" lower levels of nicotine, to help them kick the habit. They are not meant for tobacco consumption.

But electronic cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA and health risks and benefits are not known -- so Portland officials have decided to include them in the "tobacco product" classification for ordinances.

"If people do want to curb their tobacco use, [smokers] can use approve nicotine replacement therapies, regulated by the FDA," said Soma.

But some former smokers are concerned.

"I don't support this law," said Steve Price, who is using an E-Cigarette to quit smoking. "These things are great, and if you have the motivation, this is the way to go."

And head shop managers, like Phil Morin of Lucky Juju, worry this ordinance will only hurt small businesses.

"People will get around it one way or another," said Morin. "People want what they can't have, and they get what they want."

Portland health officials plan to spend the next few months educating smoke shop owners and the public about the new law, then enforcing it.

Maine is the first city in the state to pass this ordinance. Other cities and states have passed similar laws raising the age for purchasing tobacco, including Boston.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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