- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - Reaching adulthood generally means you can purchase tobacco. That won’t be possible soon in Cottonwood, Arizona.

The small northern Arizona has joined two states and about 140 local jurisdictions nationwide in raising the age to buy tobacco and vapor products from 18 to 21. It’s the only city in Arizona to do so.

A group of students from Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood worked to draft the city ordinance that regulates products like smoking and chewing tobacco, cigars and electronic cigarettes. It goes into effect in June.

“We listened to both sides of the issue, and we all agreed that we needed to place the health of our youth as a top priority,” Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens said.

Education classes will be offered to people under the age of 21 who are caught with tobacco or vapor products on the first offense. Retailers face a maximum $250 fine on the first offense and higher amounts for subsequent violations.

It’s unclear whether the ordinance runs afoul of a state law that would cut shared revenue from municipalities and counties that pass regulations that conflict with state law. Mia Garcia, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, declined to speculate.

State Sen. Sylvia Allen, who represents Cottonwood, said it could violate the state law. She said the students from the Yavapai Anti-Tobacco Coalition of Youth have approached her about raising the age for tobacco purchases statewide, and she’d support that move.

“You need to have consistency across the state,” she said.

Cottonwood City Manager Doug Bartosh said he doesn’t anticipate any problems with the ordinance.

The students pick a policy issue to tackle each year. In 2015, they asked the City Council to ban smoking in a handful of Cottonwood parks. The city instead designated smoking areas.

The students have a strong idea of how legislation works, participate in compliance checks of tobacco retailers and attend leadership training, said Jen Mabery, the adult coordinator for the group.

She said the group shared personal stories with the Cottonwood City Council, including one from a student’s mother who started smoking at the age of 12 and quit recently in recognition of her daughter’s anti-tobacco efforts. The group stressed that the majority of lifetime smokers start before 18, presented facts about teen brain development and addressed concerns about loss of business, Mabery said.

“They really did their background,” she said.

The National Association of Tobacco Outlets Inc. and some retailers urged the council to reject the age change, saying retailers are not the problem. Rather, most teenagers get tobacco from social sources, the association said.

Data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows that minors were sold tobacco twice in nearly 40 compliance checks of Cottonwood retailers from May 2011 to January 2016.

Matt Nelson, who owns the only shop with vapor products in Cottonwood, said he sells mostly to people ages 25 through 45. He objected to the ordinance, saying anyone who can vote, live on their own and sign up for the military should be able to buy tobacco.

“As far as taking away the option as an adult to choose what you’re going to do, whether it’s good or bad, nobody can tell me that,” he said.

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