Jacksonville councilman wants to raise age to buy tobacco, vape products to 21

Ron Salem, who is also a pharmacist, plans to introduce bill in coming weeks

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City Council member Ron Salem is proposing raising the minimum age to buy tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 in Jacksonville.

Salem, who is a pharmacist, said he spoke with parents and vape shop owners in researching his proposal. He feels that young teenagers' source of tobacco products are 18- to 20-year-olds who can provide them to children who are underage.

"Young people below the age of 18 are getting vaping products from the 18-year-old who is still in high school," Salem said. "I think if we can remove that purchase power, hopefully, we can impact young people getting these products."​​​​​​

Salem told News4Jax he has not yet introduced an ordinance to council but hopes to introduce something in the next couple of weeks.

Oliver Kuegel, who owns America's Choice vape shop in Arlington, said he's on board with Salem's idea.

"I think it helps to get the vapes out of minors' hands," Kuegel said.

Earlier this week, Alachua County approved increasing the age to buy tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. Salem said he wants to see how Alachua County's ordinance plays out so the city can avoid potential lawsuits that could occur. 

He believes more and more people are choosing vape products, believing they are a safer option than cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1,600 cases of lung injury linked to e-cigarette or vaping product use have been reported.

Salem fears that young people who are vaping may get a cartridge that is illicit and is laced with fentanyl, and that could lead to a deadly situation. 

"The opioid issues started in 1999 and we all thought opioids were great drugs -- they killed pain and weren't addictive," Salem said. "This problem kind of developed the same way. People thought vaping was a great thing --- you can stop smoking -- and now we got people dying. We've got people in the hospital with lung disease, so it's really a significant issue."

Kuegel said 10% to 15% of his customers are in the age range of 18 to 21. He said increasing the age to buy the products could hurt his business in the short run.

"On the long term, I don't think so," he said.

Others who News4Jax spoke with on Thursday said they support Salem's push to increase the age to 21 to buy tobacco and vape products, while others said the age should remain at 18.

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