State appeals court strikes down county ban on tobacco sales

Private retailers make their own rules

GENESEE COUNTY — On Monday, Dec. 2, the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down a Genesee County ban on tobacco sales and related products to people under the age of 21.

The county can’t adopt a regulation that is stricter than state law, which allows tobacco sales to anyone who is at least 18, the age of majority, according to the appeals court ruling.

In a 3-0 opinion, the court affirmed a decision by Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Judith Fullerton, who on June 19, 2017, ruled against Tobacco 21, the effort to ban sales of tobacco and related products to anyone under 21.

The ordinance, which was to become effective May 15, 2017, was approved by Genesee County commissioners in

2017 but was not enforced because of a lawsuit. Then- Commissioner Drew Shapiro voted against the measure claiming it was unenforceable.

The lawsuit, filed May 12, 2017, by RPF Oil Company in Grand Blanc, challenged that ordinance. The lawsuit alleged that the regulation, adopted by the Genesee County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 14, 2017 is in direct conflict with the Age of Majority Act (MCL 722.51), and directly conflicts with the sign requirements of the Youth Tobacco Act (MCL 722.641(2).

The Court of Appeals agreed.

Supporters of the ordinance said it was intended to discourage young people from smoking. The ordinance didn’t ban young adults from using tobacco products in Genesee County — just buying them.

University of Michigan researchers say raising the age to buy tobacco could save thousands of lives.

Big national retailers, however, have done what Genesee County could not and have made their own policies on what age individuals should be to purchase tobacco products.

On April 23 of this year, Walgreens announced it would be implementing a new chainwide policy that will require customers to be at least 21 years old in order to buy tobacco products in its stores.

Walgreens joins Rite-Aid and Walmart, which earlier this year raised the age to 21 to buy tobacco products. CVS stores ceased selling tobacco products altogether in 2014.

Walgreens’ new policy became effective Sunday, Sept. 1, and claims it is their most recent step in an ongoing effort to further prevent youth access to tobacco products, according to the retailer’s press release.

“We’ve seen positive results from other recent efforts to strengthen our policies related to tobacco sales, and believe this next step can be even more impactful to reduce its use among teens and young adults,” said Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president of operations in April. “Through ongoing training and certification for pharmacists and technicians, we also continue to help and support people looking to quit the use of tobacco in their lives.”

Walgreens has supported such legislative proposals. Studies have shown cities that have enacted Tobacco 21 laws have seen a sharp decline in tobacco use among young adults 18-20 years old, according to the Walgreens officials.

Additionally, the company continues to focus efforts on promoting cessation products and services, and offers a comprehensive suite of digital information and support tools to patients who want to quit smoking.