By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer
HARTFORD — Hartford City Council on Monday voted unanimously to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchase from 18 to 21.
In a vote 9-0, council members banned the sale of cigarettes, cigars, vaping products and other forms of tobacco to anyone below 21.
The law is effective immediately. Enforcement will begin in April. Store owners who violate the law will be fined $250 for each violation. Their tobacco licenses may also be suspended.
Hartford officials are hoping other towns will adopt similar laws.
After a rally at city hall earlier this month, the nine-member council heard overwhelming support for the idea of raising the age for tobacco purchase in an effort to prevent nicotine addiction.
Advocates said that about 95 percent of smokers begin smoking before the age of 21 and become addicted as adults. By delaying the age when people begin using tobacco, it reduces the chance that they become lifelong tobacco users.
In Hartford, 23.5 percent of people 18 and older smoke, compare to 15.3 statewide. Hartford has the highest rate of smokers in the state.
So far, six states and more than 350 cities have raised the age requirement to 21.Hartford has joined California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and Massachusetts and Oregon in adopting the new law.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 4,900 Connecticut residents will die from smoking-related causes this year. And more than 1,000 children are expected to become new daily smokers under the current law.
Earlier this year, advocates for raising the minimum age testified before a committee in the General Assembly, saying the annual health care costs directly caused by smoking are $2.03 billion and Medicaid costs are $520.8 million.
Raising the age to 21 has been proposed before the General Assembly several times but the measure has always failed.