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Keene latest NH city to consider raising age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21

Union Leader Correspondent

September 25. 2018 8:48PM
Lyssa Pletzner at The Corner News on Main Street said raising the tobacco buying age in Keene will hurt local businesses. (DAMIEN FISHER / Union Leader Correspondent)

KEENE — Tobacco and e-cigarette buyers may soon have to wait until they’re 21 under a proposed ordinance up for consideration this week.

“I’m not trying to take anyone’s rights away,” said Kate McNally of the Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco Free Communities. “I’m trying to stop kids from starting.”

McNally proposed raising the age for tobacco and e-cigarette purchases to the city this past summer.

The current legal age in most New Hampshire communities is 18; only the city of Dover requires a buyer of tobacco and e-cigarettes to be 21 or older.

Keene’s proposal went before the city’s Municipal Services, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, which tabled the proposed ordinance in favor of more study amid outcry from local businesses.

The committee is set to meet Wednesday night to take up the proposal. City Hall employees have already canceled other meetings scheduled for Wednesday to make room for the expected crowd.

Several local business owners are circulating petitions opposing the age increase.

Lyssa Pletzner, a clerk at The Corner News on Main Street, said it would have unintended consequences.

“It will absolutely hurt local businesses,” Pletzner said.

People who want to buy tobacco and e-cigarettes — often called vapes — can easily do that in any town bordering Keene, Pletzner said. That will mean Keene retailers will lose those sales, as well as any ancillary business. Pletzner said the only fair way to raise the age is to make sure it is raised throughout the state or region.

But McNally said the impact on businesses will be slight.

She said the 18- to 20-year-old population for all of Cheshire County was a little more than 1,400 people in the last census. If 30 percent of those people use tobacco, that means a few hundred people would be affected, she said.

“It’s really a small number of folks denied their so-called right to smoke,” McNally said.

Tobacco isn’t the main concern for McNally; she points to the increased use of vapes. Children as early as middle school have been using the product, which delivers nicotine-flavored water vapor.

The overall safety of e-cigarettes is still a matter of some debate. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the products are unsafe for young people as the nicotine will affect their brain development.

The CDC also states use of the products make later use of regular tobacco products more likely.

McNally said the self-reported risk assessments of Keene area students indicate that a large number of underage tobacco and e-cigarette users do not buy the products themselves but get them from 18-year-old friends and sometimes siblings. She hopes that by pushing back on the age of purchase there will be a reduction in underage use and a reduction in addiction later on.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. in City Hall.

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