Retailers Challenge Tobacco 21 Measure in San Antonio

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Retailers Challenge Tobacco 21 Measure in San Antonio

Tobacco 21 sign

SAN ANTONIO — Three retail industry groups joined forces to challenge the recent change in local legislation prohibiting anyone under 21 from buying tobacco products.

The Tobacco 21 ordinance, which went into effect on Oct. 1, raised legal minimum age to buy tobacco products in San Antonio to 21. The move made the city the first in Texas to adopt a Tobacco 21 measure.

The ordinance only applies to the sale of tobacco. People under 21 in possession of tobacco will not be fined or cited. Businesses will have a three-month grace period to adjust to its new rules. After Jan. 1, businesses face fines up to $500 for violating the law, as Convenience Store News previously reported.

However, on a new lawsuit filed in federal court in San Antonio the Association of Convenience Store Retailers, South Texas Merchants Association Cooperative and Texas Food and Fuel Association argue stores are being unfairly "singled out," according to Courthouse News Service.

"The 'crime' as established by [the ordinance] only subjects retailers to punishment though it was purportedly enacted for the health of" 18 to 20 year olds, according to the lawsuit filed in San Antonio federal court by lead attorney Clinton Glenny II.

By failing to enforce fines or other forms of punishment against underage tobacco purchasers, the ordinance "is clearly biased against one class for the benefit of another," the trade groups claim.

As the news service reported, the complaint compares the Tobacco 21 ordinance to the legal drinking age, arguing that because the ordinance does not censure underage consumers for possessing or using tobacco products, it "does not provide any incentive for those whose health is supposedly at issue to change their behavior." 

The trade groups also argued that the local measure will not affect tobacco use by minors because San Antonio is surrounded by other municipalities where the legal age remains 18.

City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a statement on Dec. 21, "After preliminary review of the complaint, we stand behind our ordinance and will prepare to defend it in federal court."

The complaint asks the court to declare the ordinance "unconstitutional and void" based on the trade groups' claim they were denied equal protection under the law. They also seek punitive damages, according to Courthouse News Service.