Phillips County Increases Legal Age to Buy Tobacco to 21

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A Delta county with the highest smoking rates in the state has made a step to extinguish this trend. 

Phillips County has raised the age to legally buy and consume tobacco products to 21 years old. 

The county seat, Helena/West Helena, raised the smoking age to 21 two years ago, but as of last week, the law has expanded county-wide. 

After being ranked the least healthy county in the state by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, some say this vote was to help change its negative direction. 

The county is home to about 20-thousand people, not everyone sees eye-to-eye on the new age for tobacco consumption and purchase.

“I think it’s a good idea.” Rasheed Gum says.

Gum is a manager at convenience store.

“I think it’s crazy,” Emanuel Dawkins says.

“What are they trying to prove? Like, are they trying to just stamp out smoking?”

Quorum court member C.R. Walker says that’s exactly what they’re trying to do.

On the phone, Walker says he wants to help keep younger people away from tobacco products since he’s seen how detrimental it has been to family members’ health. 

Gum wishes the age limit was 21 when he was younger. 

“Maybe I wouldn’t have started smoking,” Gum says.

“Maybe I wouldn’t even be smoking at all.”

Gum says he sells about $300 to $400 dollars worth of tobacco products a day at his store in Helena/West Helena.

According to county health rankings, 26 percent of Phillips county residents smoke, compared to the state average of 24 percent and the national average of 16 percent. 

“Sometimes I wish I never started smoking.”

But Dawkins believes the new law won’t change anything. 

“You can’t stop nobody from doing what they want to do.”

And both men say, if a teen can’t get the products here, they’re only a couple miles away from spending their money in another county legally. 

“I wish that every county would try to boost the age limit,” Gum says.

Until then, only time will tell if the court’s decision is improving health, or just blowing smoke.

There are fines for retailers who sell to those underage and adults who buy for those underage. 

Back in 2017, House bill 1711 attempted to raise the legal age to buy or possess tobacco to 21 statewide, but it died after its third reading. 

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