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Education leader urges Pima County to take action to curb vaping ‘crisis’

TUCSON — After the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 not to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, Pima County Superintendent of Schools Dustin Williams was disappointed.

“This ruling wouldn’t have been the end-all, save-all but it would have been a step in the right direction,” Williams said. “And it would have been a tool in the tool chest we could have used.”

Supervisor Steve Christy voted in the majority. He sent this statement to News 4 Tucson:

“I voted against the Tobacco 21 ordinance for several reasons. The most significant of which is that I feel the punitive penalties being placed on merchants and business owners are grossly unfair and would negatively impact the store’s ability to remain solvent.

As a former long-time business owner and operator in Pima County, I know first-hand what governmental regulations can do to one’s ability to effectively and profitably run a business.

I found the original ordinance lacking proper detailed analysis and thoughtful discernment at many different levels; that it was poorly constructed and written; enforcement was inadequately reviewed, and state and federal legislative actions on and related to this matter were not fully considered.

The proposed local ordinances would do nothing to stop an individual from simply crossing a road into another municipality to purchase nicotine products. Further, it is unclear if raising the age to purchase these materials would truly address the problem. Local merchants and their trade associations have expressed support of state legislation, a measure that would ensure uniformity and proper enforcement. “

Williams argues vaping is an epidemic in high schools countywide.

“We have a crisis on our hands,” he said.

The education leader said high school seniors who are 18 are buying products that are used to vape and re-selling those to younger friends and other teens at school.

“Students will go in, they won’t buy just one vapor,” Williams said. “They’ll buy 10,12 at a time and sell them at twice the price and these vapors are funneling all the way down to our middle schools.”

Brendan Pearce, 20, has vaped for about a year, using that addicting habit to kick the habit of cigarettes.

“Eighteen, I mean, if you want to start smoking and possibly cause yourself damage, it’s your own body and your own choice,” Pearce said.

Williams believes action to curb vaping is needed now.

“What we see on the forefront of schools is a war that is troubling because nicotine at the end of the day kills people,” he said.

Eric Fink

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