Councilmember Julie Grand (D–Ward 3) expressed her desire to clarify the city’s Tobacco 21 ordinance is still in effect Monday at a City Council meeting, despite an opinion issued by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette claiming the ordinance is in conflict with state law.

The ordinance, which was passed Aug. 4 and went into effect Jan. 1, raises the minimum age for tobacco purchase from 18 to 21.

“It’s been widely reported that an opinion issued by the attorney general last week has invalidated our Tobacco 21 ordinance, and that is simply false,” Grand said. “While the attorney general’s opinion does have implications for the actions of those who work for state agencies, he does not have the power or authority to invalidate our local ordinances.”

Schuette’s opinion is not the only opposition the ordinance has faced –– the ordinance passed with two dissenting votes, from Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) and Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2).

“I am vividly aware of the cost of smoking, but I can’t support this ordinance,” Eaton said in a July City Council meeting. “The Michigan Tobacco Products Tax Act says that we shall not impose any new requirements or prohibitions pertaining to the sale of tobacco, and that’s exactly what we’re doing here. I think that when there’s a state law that tells us not to do something, we’re ill-advised to do it regardless of how passionate we are about the intent behind the law.”

The opinion, also issued Monday, was requested by state Sen. Rick Jones (R–Grand Ledge). In it, Schuette argues state law preempts local laws in this case, and that it is specifically in conflict with the state’s Age of Majority Act.

“The Act expressly bars laws that prescribe duties, liabilities, responsibilities, rights and legal capacity of persons who are 18 to 20 years old that are ‘different’ from those who are 21 years old,” Schuette wrote. “The Age of Majority Act’s rejection of a difference of laws for those between the ages of 18 to 20 years as a class from those 21 years and older was predicated on the existence of a duty, liability, responsibility, right, or legal capacity related to the sale or furnishing of tobacco products.”

Though the minimum age of 21 for the purchase of alcohol in the state appears in conflict with this act, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in 1984 that the general provisions in the Age of Majority Act “did not alter” the Liquor Control Act passed by the state legislature, which raised the minimum age for purchase from 18 to 21.

Noting that Schuette’s opinion did not have legal weight, Grand implied the opinion also might be factually incorrect.

“Not being an attorney, I won’t comment much on the legal merits of the opinion, except that I would like to point out that the attorney general has been wrong before,” she said.

Furthermore, Grand questioned the motives of Attorney General Schuette in issuing the opinion, saying it was a failure of his duty to protect the health of Michigan residents, and making her own motives clear.

“We have a couple public officials who are supposed to defend the health of Michigan citizens,” she said, referring to Schuette and Jones. “Why would they have the audacity to make it easier for our youth to have access to tobacco products?”

Grand referenced a study, published in March 2015 by the Institute of Medicine, which concluded that Tobacco 21 ordinances would achieve their intended effect of preventing adolescents from taking up smoking in the first place.

“The committee concludes that overall, increasing the (minimum age of legal access) for tobacco products will likely prevent or delay initiation of tobacco use by adolescents and young adults,” the study reads. “The age group most impacted will be those age 15 to 17 years.”

In addition to adolescents who have access to tobacco through older friends or siblings, the ordinance also targets 18-to-20-year-olds who may be on the path to addiction, Grand said.

Though the ordinance does not provide any resources for people under 21 who are already addicted, Washtenaw County and the University of Michigan both run tobacco cessation programs to assist residents and students struggling with tobacco addiction.

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