PORTLAND, Maine — Young adults will soon be barred from buying cigarettes in Portland, after the City Council passed an ordinance that raises the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
The Council unanimously voted in favor of the ordinance, which aims to lower smoking rates and improve public health by restricting access to tobacco. The council’s decision does not, however, affect the age at which it is legal to smoke — which remains 18.
The decision makes Portland is the first city in Maine to place such restrictions on tobacco, but it follows a trend of cities and states nation-wide upping the age requirement to parallel that placed on the purchase of alcohol. More than 100 municipalities, including Boston, New York City and Chicago, have enacted similar rules, and California in April became the second state to do so.
Portland tobacco sellers were sent notice of the ordinance in May and responded with a letter to the council condemning the proposal as a restriction on the freedom of people who, by law, may be married or conscripted to the military. The rule will likely be a blow to the sales of such businesses, if the young adult smoking rate drops or if Portland’s 18- to 20-year-old smokers turn to shops in nearby towns to purchase their cigarettes.
Under the Portland city code, the new restrictions on tobacco products will also apply to tobacco-free electronic cigarettes, which vaporize solutions that may or may not contain nicotine.
Like the FDA, Portland classifies e-cigarettes as tobacco products even though they don’t actually contain tobacco. These smokeless products are hotly debated within the world of public health, with proponents advocating them as a less-harmful alternative for smokers and opponents worrying that they may serve as a gateway to picking up cigarettes.
According to statistics compiled by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 13 Americans under the age of 17 smoke and 90 percent of smokers had their first cigarette before the age of 18.
City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, told Maine Public Broadcasting on Monday that the rule would go into effect 30 days after the vote.
— Additional reporting by WGME
Follow BDN Portland on Facebook for more Portland coverage.