Luke Sharrett / Bloomberg

Cleveland council votes to raise tobacco age to 21, stop hiring smokers

Cleveland joins growing number of US cities to enact stronger bans on teen smoking

The Cleveland City Council has passed a law banning the sale of tobacco, smoking products and e-cigarettes to people under the age of 21, in a move designed to curb early addiction among teenagers.

The council passed the legislation on Monday night, along with a separate resolution calling for the city in northeastern Ohio to hire only non-smokers starting in 2017 — following in the footsteps of a similar pledge by the influential Cleveland Clinic.

According to, neither vote was unanimous. The news site reported that some council members were concerned that increasing the minimum age requirement from 18 to 21 would “criminalize the act of young adults sharing cigarettes among friends” and “unfairly target the black community by making cigarette use probable cause for stopping black youths.”

Council members resolved those concerns on Monday with an amendment that makes the new restrictions only applicable to vendors, not customers, reported. The new minimum purchase age law would impose a possible 30-day jail sentence or $250 fine for first-time offenders.

If Mayor Frank Jackson signs the legislation, the city will join a growing number of U.S. cities that have strengthened tobacco laws in recent years.

Certain anti-smoking groups argue that raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products prevents young people from becoming addicted at a time period when they are most vulnerable.

According to, Rob Crane, president of Tobacco 21, testified before the city council that young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 are a mere two percent of smokers, but compose 90 percent of those supplying children under the age of 18 with tobacco products.

Cleveland would also join a wave of employers to institute controversial bans on hiring smokers. Anti-tobacco advocates say refusing to hire smokers is a powerful incentive for them to quit smoking. And, according to a 2009 study from the Journal of Tobacco Policy and Research, smokers take more sick days than their non-smoking colleagues.

Opponents of these laws call them discriminatory, and argue that they raise the specter of a slippery slope for employers to refuse jobs to anyone who they believe may be prone to health conditions.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not recognize smokers as a protected class, however. There are 29 states that do offer protections, but Ohio is not among them.

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