VAN BUREN, Ark. (KNWA) — A new ordinance in Van Buren requires smokers to be at least 21 years old to buy tobacco products in an effort to stop teen vaping. The problem? It’s illegal.
On August 26, the Van Buren City Council Members passed an ordinance that said you must be at least 21 to purchase tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, within city limits.
“Their city ordinance certainly can’t override the state’s current position,” State Senator Bart Hester said.
Arkansas passed a law this past session to gradually increase the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 by 2021 starting this month.
Sen. Hester said he understands where Van Buren is coming from but the city needs to go about it in a different way.
“I think the people of Van Buren are seeing a crisis in our young kids,” he said. “I think we would agree with that on a state level but I think they need to spend their time and resources with their local representatives and senators to get a state law passed.”
Despite the ordinance being illegal, the American Heart Association (AHA) is backing up Van Buren 100%.
Press release from AHA on September 4:
“A new city ordinance in Van Buren takes steps to protect its children from the dangers of e-cigarettes but the ordinance is illegal under a little-known state law.
In 2015, the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 1235. The law prohibits local governments from enacting additional policies to protect teens in Arkansas from e-cigarettes. Teen e-cigarette use has exploded in Arkansas and across the nation. The U.S. Surgeon General has called the alarming increase of teen e-cigarette use an epidemic with a 78% increase in usage of e-cigarettes by teens over the previous year. Within the last week the first cases of e-cigarette related lung disease in Arkansas have been reported.
Cities across the state are powerless from taking action to prevent children from the dangers of e-cigarettes. Cities are restricted from developing vape taxes, flavor bans, or even something as simple as zoning laws that would keep vape shops from opening near schools.
The American Heart Association, the world’s leading nonprofit organization, supports the efforts of Van Buren and all communities in Arkansas that want to take further action to protect youth in their communities. And urges the State legislature to remove barriers that prevent communities from protecting children from e-cigarettes.“
“We support any efforts to help protect children from the vaping epidemic and we think that all communities should have the right to do what Van Buren is doing,” American Heart Association Government Relations Director David Oberembt said.
Oberembt said according to AHA’s research, teen e-cigarette use has exploded in Arkansas with a 78% increase since 2018.
“Lung disease is just popping up in young healthy children and there are reports of deaths due to vaping now,” he said. “I mean we know that these things contain cartridges and metals.”
Oberembt said he hopes state legislatures will see the issue here, but Sen. Hester said the state’s eyes are already opened wide to the problem.
“We’re hearing from a lot of leaders in the community that this is something that we need to address quickly for our kids,” he said. “I think they’re getting our attention.”
“The cities need to have the ability to help their kids from the harmful effects of e-cigarettes,” Oberembt said.