The D.C. Council on Tuesday advanced a package of anti-tobacco bills that would increase the minimum age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21 and restrict the public use of tobacco products.
The bills would extend the same restrictions against cigarette smoking in restaurants, schools and public buildings to electronic cigarettes. It would also ban chewing tobacco at sport facilities, including Nationals Park.
The proposals are part of a national effort to prevent a new generation from becoming addicted to nicotine, especially with the rise of e-cigarettes, which are marketed as an alternative to traditional cigarettes.
Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) has pushed to increase the minimum age to possess and purchase tobacco since 2013, saying it would reduce youth exposure to a “deadly habit.” The legislation would apply to all forms of cigarettes.
The D.C. Council passed the bill over the objections of three members who criticized it for redefining adulthood and said it was unnecessarily punitive. The critics said punishing teenagers for cigarette use won’t improve public health and that tobacco cessation efforts have succeeded without bans.
“We have seen over and over again the inclination to address a problem by prohibiting it,” said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). “It doesn’t work.”
Mendelson noted that lawmakers are debating whether to tighten controls over the legal possession of tobacco at the same time they’ve been decriminalizing marijuana use.
California, Hawaii and major cities including Boston, Chicago and New York City have increased the minimum smoking age.
The council also passed without debate legislation that would ban electronic cigarettes in workplaces and inside public establishments, equating them with traditional cigarettes under the District’s smoke-free air law. Tobacco use would still be permitted in outdoor areas of bars and restaurants.
Council members say banning public vaping helps to stop “re-normalizing” smoking, citing rising e-cigarette use among teenagers after decades of declining smoking rates.
Similarly, Nationals players and fans could no longer chew tobacco under legislation approved by the council to bar all tobacco use at sporting events. McDuffie said he doesn’t want children who look to professional athletes as role models to see chewing tobacco — also known as dipping — as acceptable behavior.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids advocacy group says a third of Major League Baseball stadiums will be tobacco free by the 2017 season with laws passed in California, Boston, Chicago and New York City.
All anti-tobacco bills passed Tuesday must be approved by the D.C. Council again before advancing to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) for consideration.