Twelve people spoke before Springfield City Council Monday night about proposed changes to the tobacco ordinance, and all were in favor of raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco in the city to 21.
One of those was Steve Edwards, president of CoxHealth, and, while he could have shared statistics to convince council members to vote yes on what’s being called the “Tobacco 21 Act,” he told a personal story.
He talked about his father who believed strongly in personal liberty. But he says, his father, a veteran, was a lifetime smoker (he picked up the habit as a teenager during the Korean War) who was never able to kick the habit. He died of a brain tumor that was secondary to lymphoma. One of the last conversations he had with his son was when they had gone outside the hospital on a cold winter day so he could smoke.
"Shaved head, paralyzed, and he could barely speak, and when he finished that cigarette, in a sense of shame--shivering, with a blanket--he told me, 'you should wheel me to the circus so I an be in a freak show to tell children what smoking does to them,'" said Edwards. "He was someone that, most of his life, would have argued about personal liberty, but I know, at the very end, he'd be supportive of this."
Another speaker was Clay Goddard, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, himself a former smoker. He said the average age to try cigarettes for the first time in Greene County is 12.6. According to Goddard, 88% of current smokers say they started before age 18, and an additional eight percent said they started smoking between 18 and 21.
"So, 96 percent of smokers start before that age of 21," said Goddard. "And that is why Tobacco 21 is designed to raise that minimum legal sales age to 21."
The bill would apply to the sale of tobacco products, alternative nicotine products and vapor products.
Council is expected to vote on the measure July 1.