City Council Aims to Change Tobacco Laws While Students are Away

They will be hosting a public hearing and possibly moving for final approval on August 4, long before students return.

While the majority of students are out of town for the summer, the Ann Arbor City Council has been busy coming up with ways to push students and other Ann Arbor residents towards making healthy choices – namely by raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

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The ordinance would prohibit anyone from selling, giving or furnishing a tobacco product to someone under the age of 21. The language includes electronic cigarettes, but would exclude products aimed at helping individual quit smoking if they are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Additionally, the ordinance would remove penalties for underage possession of tobacco products and instead assess penalties against retailers.  

Julie Grand, who proposed the ordinance, told the Review, “As a policy maker, I believe ordinance changes should be supported by research and reflect the values of our community.” She explained that Ann Arbor would be the first community in Michigan to enact these changes, and added that she believed “the presence of tobacco prevention experts, coupled with Ann Arbor’s progressive values, makes our city an excellent fit to lead the way.”

Although this ordinance would only apply within the city of Ann Arbor, it would most substantially impact the undergraduate student population – a large percentage of whom are both under 21 and without access to a car. This disproportionate impact of such an ordinance is exacerbated by the fact that the council voted to advance the ordinance on July 18. They will be hosting a public hearing and possibly moving for final approval on August 4, long before students return.

One student who started smoking while at U of M told the Review that he supports raising the age to buy tobacco to 21, adding that “it would have made it more difficult for me to pick up smoking since I started when I was 19.” In a testament to the social stigma of smoking on campus, however, he wished to remain anonymous.

This student also explained that his concern with the ordinance stemmed from the timing of the public hearing, telling the Review, “I find it frustrating that City Council isn’t actively seeking student input.” He further noted, “I don’t think that they are specifically not trying to incorporate our opinions. Rather, this is symptomatic of the way that students are poorly represented by the city council.”

Cody Chipman, a recent graduate, claims  that while he doesn’t smoke, he does not support the ordinance.“I don’t think there should be any age limit,” he explained. “It’s about personal choice, and recognizing ownership of one’s body.”

Chipman, who joined the National Guard when he was 19, brought up apparent discrepancies in how the country viewed adulthood. “I know it’s a trope, but how can one expect a human being to be drafted or enlist in the military at 18, but not have the mental ability to choose what substances go in their body? Tobacco is bad for your body, bullets are worse.”

Despite the concerns raised by students, Grand has indicated that her primary focus is pushing for the ordinance regardless of student input. In an interview with the Michigan Daily, she also remarked that, “As much as I would like to get the input from the University students, that’s not my primary goal. And honestly, if they were against the ordinance, I really don’t think it would change my mind.”

In her comments to the Review, she added, “All public health measures, including those intended to prevent tobacco use, consider trade-offs between personal liberty and the public good. From my perspective, the public good provided by Tobacco 21 more than outweighs any potential loss of personal liberty.”

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About Erin Dunne

Erin Dunne is a senior studying History, French and International Studies. In her free time she is a drug policy reform advocate and a free speech enthusiast. You can reach her by email at eedunne@umich.edu