San Antonio to vote on stricter tobacco sales law today

January 11, 2018 GMT

San Antonio may become the first city in Texas today to pass a law prohibiting retailers from selling any tobacco products to customers under 21 years old.

State law already forbids the sale of such products to anyone 17 years old or younger. The state measure also prohibits anyone that young from purchasing or possessing those goods. But City Council is expected to vote this morning on a proposed ordinance that goes further — and puts the onus on business owners to comply.

Supporters say the measure is necessary to protect public health. Critics say it’s heavy-handed government regulation and penalizes businesses, particularly smaller retailers who they fear could be harmed economically.


The proposal, if approved, would take effect Aug. 1, said San Antonio Metropolitan Health District Director Colleen Bridger. Retailers who violate the rules could face a fine of up to $500.

The drafted ordinance going before council does not seek any penalties or enforcement measures against 18-, 19- or 20-year-olds who purchase, use or possess tobacco products. It only targets retailers.

“I see one of the major roles of government as keeping people safe,” Bridger said in an interview Wednesday. “We’ve got Big Tobacco investing billions of dollars every year, trying to get people to use a product that nobody says is anything but dangerous. So we need to intervene.”

City Councilman Greg Brockhouse blasted the policy change as government overreach.

“To hold a business owner accountable for somebody else’s personal choice is just ridiculous,” said Brockhouse, who represents District 6.

“There’s absolutely no personal accountability in the ordinance at all for the user. So your goal is to prevent it, but you don’t hold them accountable.”

More than 270 cities nationwide have already raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21, including Chicago; New York City; Boston; Washington D.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Columbus, Ohio, a City Council memorandum shows. Five states have also passed such laws — California, Oregon, Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine.

Most of those “Tobacco 21” initiatives have been passed since 2014, Bridger said.

If San Antonio enacts such a law, Bridger predicts other cities in Texas will follow suit.

The proposed ordinance says tobacco products include, but are not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff, a powder tobacco known as snus, electronic smoking devices and liquids designed for electronic smoking devices.

Peggy O’Hare is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. Read more of her stories here. | pohare@express-news.net | @Peggy_OHare