Columbus could be the next city to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old.

Columbus could be the next city to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old.

Health and city officials planned to roll out the Tobacco 21 policy early this week, with City Council adoption expected Dec. 12. Columbus Public Health, meanwhile, will amend the health code in mid-January.

For the next several months, the city will embark on a vendor-education campaign with the owners of more than 2,000 area stores that sell tobacco products, including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes and paraphernalia such as lighters and rolling papers.

"This has been an initiative we have looked at around the country," said Dr. Teresa Long, the city's health commissioner.

More than 200 U.S. cities, including Upper Arlington and Grandview Heights, have raised the smoking age to 21. Three states have done the same.

Health officials say they want stores to ask anyone who looks younger than 30 years old to show identification to help ensure success of the program. Stores would be required to post signs notifying patrons of the law.

The legislation effectively would ban cigarette machines, which aren't widely used anymore, said Jose Rodriguez, spokesman for Columbus Public Health.

Stores would be required to purchase a $150 annual retail tobacco sales license, which will pay for the implementation of the program.

Health officials said store owners can expect undercover attempts at tobacco purchases from those who are younger than 21, but fines won't be imposed until August.

A $500 fine will be imposed for the first offense witnessed by a Columbus Public Health sanitarian. Fines will increase to $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

Fees and penalties would go into the Tobacco Enforcement and Education Fund.

Police also could pursue criminal penalties against those selling tobacco to anyone younger than 21.

The goal of Tobacco 21 is to decrease the number of new smokers while encouraging healthful lifestyles across the board.

Officials say a flood of data supports the measure: 33 percent of those who start smoking before 18 are twice as likely to become smokers compared to those who start at 21 or older.

Tobacco use stands in the way of the city's efforts to reduce infant mortality, health officials said. Smoking during pregnancy is linked to premature births and sudden infant death syndrome.

Kelli Hykes, director of public health policy for the department, said smoking during pregnancy is responsible for $6 million in local hospital charges.

Rodriguez said he expects some pushback from stores that sell tobacco and the tobacco industry itself.

"They're likely not going to like it," he said. "Why would they?"

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary