San Antonio has become the first city in Texas to join a wave of cities and counties across the country to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21. Currently, more than 270 localities have done so, along with five entire states (California, Oregon, Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine).
This decision intends to curb the number of young San Antonians getting addicted to tobacco. According to Colleen Bridger, director of San Antonio Metro Health, 95 percent of smokers begin before the age of 21, during a period of time when the brain is especially susceptible to addiction.
In a brief presentation before the council Thursday, Bridger shared the results of an online survey of more than 5,000 San Antonians, showing that 77.5 percent of participants supported the age hike.
Those opposed to the ordinance argue the decision is yet another way local government is elbowing its way into the personal lives of its citizens — similar to laws limiting soda serving sizes
Convenience store owners have also expressed their concern over the financial blow this rule will likely have on their businesses — especially when their competitor stores outside city limits won’t have to abide by the new law. On Wednesday, a group of these business owners and industry representatives crowded the steps of City Hall to protest the change.
"We think it's unfair business practice to where markets outside of the whatever respective territory,” Paul Hardin, president of the Texas Food and Fuel Organization, told KSAT
. “Whether that's county, city or state boundaries, and move that business to other locations.”
Prior to the council vote, Bridger said she had met with the South Texas Merchants Association and Association of Convenience Store Retailers to talk over their concerns.
Anwar Tahir, president of the ACSR, he was only called at 3 p.m. Wednesday to come in for a 5 p.m. emergency meeting with Bridger and other city staffers at 5 p.m. that same day. Fortunately, he said, he could make the meeting — but he called it "a joke," especially since he's been asking for a meeting like this for quite some time.
"Please give us more time to meet with you," he tearfully asked the council Thursday. "You're taking my money, my business, my dinner, how am I supposed to feed my family? You're hurting small businesses run by minorities."
Four other business owners came forward asking why the council hasn't asked them to have a serious meeting about their financial worries.
Based on these conversations, Bridger asked the council to postpone the rule’s implementation to October 1, instead of the proposed August 1 start date. During these two extra months, Bridger said she’ll encourage other local municipalities to adopt the rule, so local businesses have a level playing field with the other Bexar County municipalities. She said she plans to hold more stakeholder meetings with the business owners after the vote.
But the last-minute stakeholder meeting on an issue that's been simmering in City Hall over several months
rubbed several members of city council the wrong way.
"If that was HEB or Frost Bank, would you vote to pass this today? Would you say 'Oops I'll take care of you in a stakeholder meeting?' No," said Councilman Greg Brockhouse. "Equity swings all ways. We have to adhere that to all communities."
While Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales voted in favor of the ordinance, she said she was "very disappointed" in the way Bridger handled the retailers.
"I feel like there was not the communication with them, but when do you communicate it to the people who are actually impacted," she said. "We didn't cover all our bases."