At a committee meeting Wednesday night, city councilors advanced a measure that would raise the legal age to use, buy and possess tobacco and nicotine products in Keene.
The municipal services, facilities and infrastructure committee reviewed a draft ordinance and voted 4-1 to move the issue to the full City Council. Ward 4 Councilor Robert B. Sutherland voted against the motion.
Next, councilors will consider at their Nov. 1 meeting whether city staff should evolve the draft ordinance into a more detailed and concrete ordinance for review.
No vote has been taken yet on the content of the ordinance, which means the legal age to buy and use tobacco and nicotine products in Keene — 18 — hasn’t changed.
Councilors praised Kathleen “Kate” McNally for her efforts in bringing forth the proposal. She’s the program manager for the Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco Free Communities at Cheshire Medical Center, and wrote a letter to the city on the coalition’s behalf in June suggesting raising the legal age to 21.
McNally and the proposal’s supporters argue that raising the age would limit access by teenagers and decrease addiction to tobacco and nicotine products among young people. Opponents include business owners who say it would cut into their sales and residents who assert it would infringe on their personal freedoms.
Six states have passed legislation raising the age to purchase, or to purchase and possess, tobacco and/or nicotine to 21, including Maine last year and Massachusetts a few months ago.
Hundreds of municipalities across the country are also increasing the age. Dover adopted a 21-and-up tobacco ordinance that took effect in July. McNally also approached Swanzey selectmen, who decided to wait to see if Dover’s ordinance is legally challenged.
On Monday, Hartford became the first community in Connecticut to raise the purchase age of tobacco products to 21.
Sutherland was the only committee member Wednesday to express skepticism of the ordinance’s potential effectiveness. He told McNally he appreciates her efforts and agrees with the goal of getting young people healthier, but said the issue should be handled at the state level instead of locally.
“This is going to do nothing,” he said.