Anchorage Assembly ordinance could change legal tobacco purchasing age to 21

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Assemblyman Dick Traini is proposing to change Anchorage's legal tobacco purchasing age from 19 to 21.

The ordinance is part of a national movement called Tobacco 21, and Traini says he wants to curb tobacco addictions in young Alaskans.

"Because of the health concerns that people, when they get hooked on it when they're young, they never get off of it," Traini said. "This is just an attempt to realize that's the reality."

Young Choi, owner of Blazing Smokes tobacco shops in Anchorage, says implementing Tobacco 21 would not only affect municipal tax revenues — it would reduce his opportunity to hire younger employees.

"I'm going to lose the labor pool of the 19 and 20 year olds," Choi said. "And that's kind of sad, because this is a great job for college students."

But Choi says his biggest concern is how the city of Anchorage would make up the tax revenue lost when 19 and 20 year olds stop purchasing tobacco products.

"If that tax revenue isn't coming in, where is the city going to get it from?" Choi asked.

Traini says the municipality receives around $24 million per year from taxing tobacco, and public health outweighs the lost revenue.

"I'm willing to lose half a million dollars, if in fact we help the public health by getting rid of it, and not letting people get hooked on it at a young age," Traini said.

The ordinance language as amended specifically states "It is unlawful for any person 21 years of age or older to negligently sell, exchange or give cigarettes, cigars or tobacco in any form to any person under 21 years of age."

It was scheduled for public testimony at Tuesday's regular Assembly meeting. If passed, the ordinance would take effect 30 days after approval by the assembly.

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