- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2016

HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. (AP) - A city in eastern Arkansas is raising the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, with council members saying they’re alarmed by poor health in the community.

The Helena-West Helena City Council voted to begin the new restrictions on tobacco and e-cigarettes on Sept. 1. Television station KATV reported (http://bit.ly/1WIarYa ) that the ordinance passed 9-0 Tuesday.

Board member Adrian Messina, who owns a liquor store, says he would miss maybe 2 percent of his sales because of the higher limit.

“That’s immaterial when it comes to the health of the community,” Messina said.

According to the station, Helena-West Helena is the first city in Arkansas to raise the tobacco age to 21, and among the first in the South. City officials say Helena-West Helena is the 135th city in the country to impose the restriction.

Messina and other aldermen voted after Keisha Grigsby, the program coordinator of the local Family and Youth Enrichment Network, said there was a link between tobacco use and poor life-expectancy in the Delta.

“They compared the life expectancy of someone in the Delta to someone in Northwest Arkansas, and said … we will die 10 years earlier,” said Grigsby.

Townspeople weren’t unanimous in their support.

“If you can go to war for your country and die for your country, then you ought to be able to smoke, drink whatever,” said resident Cheryl Holland.

Grigsby called military service an unfair analogy, saying that’s comparing patriotism to addiction. She says the goal is to help curb youth access to nicotine products in hopes it decreases the Delta’s higher rates of tobacco-related disease.

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Information from: KATV-TV, http://www.katv.com/

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