DeWine proposes raising legal age to buy tobacco to 21 in Ohio

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSAZ) - The age limit for buying tobacco products in Ohio could change under a proposal from the governor.

In Gov. Mike DeWine's budget recommendations for 2020-2021, he includes a health-policy initiative. The first proposed change is raising the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The proposed age limit would cover the purchase of cigarettes, cigarette papers, other tobacco products, and alternative nicotine products.

"This change would have more potential impact on the excise tax on tobacco products, but will still cause an estimated reduction of $2.8 million in state GRF (General Revenue Fund) sales tax revenues," the governor's proposal states. "Although the proposed age increase does not constitute a change in how these products are taxed, it would reduce the quantity of purchased items because of the age change and therefore result in a modest decline in cigarette and OTP tax revenue."

In DeWine's revenue estimates, he says the annual growth rate after the policy changes (including, but not limited to the age restriction change) would be down 3.5 percent for Fiscal Year 2020 and down 2.4 percent for Fiscal Year 2021.

A group called Tobacco 21 aims to prevent tobacco addiction.

"We vigorously support all of those efforts in addition to our focus on raising the legal minimum sales age to 21," the Tobacco 21 website states.

According to the group's website, "numerous" cities across Ohio have already adopted local ordinances to raise the tobacco purchasing age.

"Ohio currently has an above national average rate of both high school smoking and adult smoking," the website states. "An estimated 259,000 children now under the age of 18 will eventually die prematurely due to smoking, with 6,400 children becoming daily smokers each year. The result is an annual health care cost of $5.64 billion that is directly caused by smoking, and another $5.88 billion in lost productivity."

As for West Virginia, Tobacco 21 says, "West Virginia has an above average rate of both high school smoking and the highest rate of adult smoking in the country. An estimated 47,000 children now under the age of 18 will eventually die early due to smoking, with 1,100 children becoming daily smokers each year. The result is an annual health care cost of $1 billion that is directly caused by smoking, and other $1.23 billion in lost productivity."

It's a similar story in Kentucky, according to Tobacco 21, "Kentucky has an above average rate of high school smoking in the country, which is no doubt influenced by also having one of the highest rates of adult smoking in the country. An estimated 119,000 children now under the age of 18 will eventually die early due to smoking, with 2,900 children becoming daily smokers each year. This results in an annual health care cost of $1.92 billion that is directly attributable to smoking, and another $2.79 billion in lost productivity."