Students still find ways to smoke in face of Tobacco 21 ordinance

Despite the Tobacco 21 ordinance, students still find ways to obtain tobacco products and local businesses continue to sell to them.

Photo illustration of an MU student smoking a cigarette on campus. Efforts in Columbia to reduce underage smoking have been on the rise with the passing of the Tobacco 21 ordinance in addition to MU being a smoke-free campus. Maneater File Photo

Students can be found taking drags on their cigarettes, day or night near the fountain between Strickland Hall and the Student Center. Sitting on the ledge surrounding the fountain, they blow smoke around the campus that was declared smoke-free in July 2013.

Efforts in Columbia to reduce underage smoking have been on the rise in recent years with the passing of the Tobacco 21 ordinance in addition to MU being a smoke-free campus. Most recently, the Missouri Students Association passed a resolution to implement more no-smoking signs throughout campus in an effort to reinforce MU’s smoke-free status.

MSA unanimously passed a resolution through all of the present student governments during joint session Nov. 17. The resolution called for more no-smoking signs to be placed around campus in an effort to prevent people from smoking in areas such as the fountain by the Student Center. It also calls on the MU Police Department to better enforce the smoke-free policy.

The Residence Halls Association also has a pending resolution proposed by the Advocacy Committee that calls for more no-smoking signage on campus around Lowry Mall, the fountain and Pershing Hall. The resolution also calls for penalties for students and visitors on campus caught smoking.

At MU, a survey found that the daily smoking rate is around 8 percent, Wellness Resource Center coordinator Tiffany Bowman said in an email.

Freshman Nick Simon, who smokes cigars, said he still finds ways to purchase tobacco products despite being under 21, and usually drives to Jefferson City to stock up on $60 to $70 worth of cigars at a time. Simon said he believes that the Tobacco 21 law will not have a significant impact on the levels of smoking among college students in the long run.

“I don’t think that it changes anything really,” Simon said. “People who want to smoke, smoke; that’s kind of the nature of an addiction.”

Simon said smoking is a form of stress relief and thinks rather than restricting the sale of tobacco, the city and MU should provide alternatives to smoking in order to reduce both the levels of stress and smoking in students. Simon also said he would like to see aids for quitting provided on campus.

The Wellness Resource Center offers smoking cessation programs for students and Bowman said she has seen a slight increase in the use of these programs on campus.

“This is a completely free service and we provide individual quit coaching, free nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gum or lozenges) as well as individual quit planning,” Bowman said. “There are also free apps and online resources that can be used coupled with quit coaching if a student is interested in those options as well.”

In spite of the Tobacco 21 ordinance that has been in effect for nearly 11 months in Columbia, a Break Time at 110 E. Nifong Blvd. is one of eight retailers across the nation that has been charged with the Food and Drug Administration’s inaugural No-Tobacco-Sale Order.

The FDA may file an NTSO when a retailer has violated restrictions on the sale and distribution of tobacco products. Last December, in an effort to limit nicotine usage in the city, Columbia City Council passed a bill that prohibits the sale of tobacco to people under the age of 21. In addition, the council also passed a law prohibiting the use of electronic cigarettes indoors.

Under the law, the FDA can file a NTSO order against a retailer if it has “a total of five or more repeated violations of those restrictions during compliance inspections within 36 months,” according to an FDA news release.

Most recently, in a two-part inspection of the Break Time location on June 8 and 10, FDA-commissioned inspectors found that a minor under the age of 18 years old was able to purchase a pack of Grizzly Long Cut Premium Wintergreen smokeless tobacco without being asked to see any forms of identification before the sale, according to the complaint NTSO filed by the FDA.

The Break Time establishment also sold tobacco products to a minor in December 2014, January 2014 and August 2013.

“Retailers are the first line of defense in preventing the illegal sale of harmful and addictive products like cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to youth,” FDA spokesman Michael Felberbaum said in an email. “These enforcement actions will send a powerful message to all retailers that there are real consequences for repeatedly violating the law.”

Energy cooperative MFA Oil, which operates Break Time convenience store locations, admitted to the allegations and paid the stipulated penalty. Curtis Chaney, MFA Oil senior vice president of retail, said in a statement that MFA Oil is working with the FDA to address the situation.

“Obviously, Break Time understands the gravity of these violations,” Chaney said. “We make every effort to take swift action in addressing alcohol and tobacco infractions. Our policy is clear that these types of violations can lead to loss of employment.”

After an NTSO has been filed, a retailer usually has around 30 days to respond to the complaint. From there, if the complaint goes into effect, it is the retailer’s responsibility to not sell “any regulated tobacco products in the establishment,” Felberbaum said. Unannounced compliance checks may also be conducted during this time.

The FDA’s new NTSO initiative works to reduce the sale of tobacco products to young adults. According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23.8 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 smoked tobacco in 2013.

Student government on campus is working to reduce that number on campus. RHA’s resolution was tabled at joint session until the Monday after break.

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