With a recently enacted state law clearing the legal air, the North Platte City Council will take up the city’s legal smoking and vaping age for the second time in 10 months.
A proposed ordinance on Tuesday’s council agenda would raise the minimum age for using tobacco or vaping products from 19 to 21, matching both the brand-new Legislative Bill 1064 and a federal law enacted Dec. 20.
The latter, which emerged as Congress struck a pre-Christmas budget deal, conflicted with a pair of 2019 state laws and left many Nebraska cities in a quandary over which age to enforce.
The City Council gave second-round approval to an ordinance raising the age from 18 to 19 — and applying it to both tobacco and vaping products for the first time — just before President Donald Trump signed the budget bill.
Further confusing things, the 2019 Legislature set a different schedule for taking the same steps. Nebraska’s minimum age rose from 18 to 19 on Jan. 1, four months after vaping came under the same laws as tobacco use.
Council members also faced conflicting legal advice, with outgoing City Attorney Doug Stack initially recommending the city set the minimum age at 21 to match the federal law.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson overrode that by telling state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce the state’s 19-year-old minimum.
The council went along, leaving its minimum age at 19 in adopting its ordinance Jan. 6. But many North Platte retailers posted signs telling tobacco and vaping customers they wouldn’t sell them to people younger than 21.
That’s where matters stood until Aug. 12, when state senators voted 48-0 to pass LB 1064 to align the federal and state minimum ages. Gov. Pete Ricketts signed the measure Aug. 15.
The bill, which took effect immediately, also says 19- and 20-year-olds may work in “a tobacco specialty store” through 2021 and clarifies that 15- to 20-year-olds may help law enforcement officers with tobacco and vaping compliance checks.
The proposed ordinance raising North Platte’s minimum age to 21, like its predecessor last winter, needs three “yes” votes from the council unless it first agrees to suspend that rule.
The Police Department offered the earlier ordinance, saying it was needed to help police deal with increasing trends toward vaping among students in North Platte’s schools.
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