Healdsburg is headed toward becoming the first city in California to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21 years old.
The City Council on Tuesday voted 3-1 to have the city attorney prepare an ordinance prohibiting the sale of tobacco to persons under 21, and also establish a tobacco retailers licensing program to enforce it
Mayor Jim Wood said it may not make a huge difference, but if it makes it a little harder for young people to smoke, it can keep them from getting lung cancer and "dying a miserable death."
This was the second meeting in as many months where a majority of the council has expressed strong backing for raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products, framing it as a public health issue in the interest of the community.
Councilman Tom Chambers noted "we are not prohibiting people from smoking," but "as a society, we get saddled with the expense and ramifications. I think it's something we can regulate."
The council initially was prompted in October by retired Healdsburg physician David Anderson to tighten tobacco restrictions. He said raising the age limit will discourage teens from starting to smoke and send a message to young people, parents, educators and visitors.
"This may be the biggest thing I've accomplished as far as saving lives," the retired internist said Tuesday after the council endorsed his proposal.
Healdsburg City Attorney David Warner said he could find no California county or city that has adopted an age higher than 18 for sale of tobacco.
Under federal law it is unlawful to sell cigarettes or smokeless tobacco to anyone under the age of 18, although four states -- Utah, Alaska, Alabama and New Jersey -- have established minimum ages of 19.
Attempts in the California Legislature to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco died in 2002 and 2005.
But Warner said Utah and nine or 10 other states are looking this year at raising the minimum age to 21.