Columbus to begin enforcing fines on stores that sell tobacco to people under 21

FILE - In this Oct. 27, 2015, file photo, a University of Washington student discards a cigarette into a container at a designated smoking locations on the campus in Seattle. Seventeen public health schools in the U.S. and Canada have pledged to refuse research money from a new anti-smoking group funded by the tobacco industry. Deans of public health schools at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and a dozen other schools said Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, that the group is too closely tied to an industry that sells harmful products. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – The Tobacco 21 law in Columbus was enacted in early 2017. Now, Columbus Public Health is making sure shop owners aren’t selling any kind of tobacco product to people under the age of 21.

In April, stores that aren’t following the rules could face a hefty fine.

According to Columbus Public Health there’s about 800 registered stores in Columbus that sell tobacco products. About 67% of them are compliant with the Tobacco 21 law.

Store manager at Tobacco Discounters Jacob McKinster said they’re ready for the changes.

“Really, it’s just like any other day,” he said. “Just ID them if they look young.”

McKinster already has all of the proper signage placed around his store that says no tobacco, unless you’re 21.

He said to be more effective, he believes the whole state should adopt the Tobacco 21 law.

“But, at the same time we’ve got kids 18 years old going overseas,” said McKinster. “They want a cigarette. They deserve a cigarette.”

Supervisor of the Environmental Health Program at Columbus Public Health John Richter said the point of the law is to keep kids from starting an addictive habit that has life-long consequences.

“90% of smokers start by the age of 21 and that’s why 21’s become significant,” said Richter. “The tobacco companies understand and they’ve understood for years, if someone started in their youth you probably have a life-long smoker.”

He said you must be 21 to buy tobacco products, tobacco paraphernalia, e-cigarettes, hookah and vape pens.

“Under Tobacco 21, even a product a vape product with no nicotine is included,” said Richter.

He said they’re making purchase attempts at stores that sell tobacco with college-age students. If a store sells to one of their underage buyers, the owner will get an advisory letter that gives them a chance to take corrective action with their staff.

“If we buy a second time it is a $500 fine and then subsequent fines of $1,000,” said Richter.

Besides Columbus, there are other cities in Central Ohio that also have Tobacco 21 laws including Dublin, New Albany, Grandview Heights, Upper Arlington and Bexley. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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