TALLMADGE — City Council on Thursday night was told by a county public health official that recent statistics show vaping has become an "epidemic" in Summit County.

Council heard some new data from Cory Kendrick, population health director for Summit County Public Health, as they again reviewed legislation which would raise the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping products, from 18 to 21.

Council gave a second reading to the proposal, which means the measure will appear as a third reading on the legislative body’s agenda on April 25.

The legislation, nicknamed "Tobacco 21," is being promoted through an initiative by Summit County Public Health. Kendrick said the legislation would make it illegal for businesses to sell tobacco products like cigarettes and vaping pens to anyone under 21.

On Thursday night, Kendrick shared data from the Summit County Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in which 18,000 high school students were asked questions about their use of tobacco and e-cigarette products.

While traditional cigarette smoking among Summit County high school students declined from 13.5 percent to 5.8 percent from 2013 to 2019, Kendrick noted e-cigarette (vaping) use among county high school students is 25 percent. These percentages of students said they had smoked cigarettes or used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days.

Kendrick noted that 42 percent of county high school students surveyed said they had tried an e-cigarette, with 11 percent of them reporting they had tried an e-cigarette at the age of 12 or younger. Based on this data, Kendrick said he believes vaping is an "epidemic in Summit County."

Nearly 38 percent of high school seniors surveyed have used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days, while 57 percent of 12th-graders have tried vapor products at least once.

Kendrick called the usage rates "staggering," and noted vaping is not a safe alternative to traditional cigarette and tobacco use.

A business would not face a penalty for a first violation, according to the legislation. A second violation would result in a $500 civil fine and subsequent violations would prompt a $1,000 civil fine.

The law has been approved by Akron, Twinsburg, Mogadore, Green, Richfield and Norton, but was rejected by Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson and Stow.

Council member Dennis Loughry (At Large) noted that Summit County Council will be voting on the issue at its meeting on Monday. He suggested that City Council could delay action both to see the outcome of County Council’s vote and to allow residents a couple more weeks to share their thoughts.

Council member Michael Carano (At Large) noted his initial mindset on the issue was that if an 18-year-old can vote, get married and fight in a war, "they should be able to buy cigarettes." He said his recent research found that increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco is "a very effective way to cut smoking for people in the future."

Council approves restrictions on smoking, tobacco use at city parks

Council on Thursday approved a different measure regarding smoking. Council voted 6-0 to ban smoking and the use of tobacco products in city parks within 150 feet of playground areas, shelters, ball fields, tennis courts, basketball courts and structures. The legislation also stipulates people can only use cigarettes or tobacco products in designated areas at city-sponsored events. The ordinance makes this offense a minor misdemeanor.

Michael Rorar, the city's Director of Service, said these same restrictions have previously been listed as park rules. This is the first time they have been enacted as a law. With youth baseball games underway, Loughry said he felt it was important to pass the legislation so that signage could be posted at the parks.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.