A trio of retail trade groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the recent increase in the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in San Antonio, Texas, calling it an unfair targeting of their businesses.
Three organizations—the Association of Convenience Store Retailers, South Texas Merchants Association Cooperative and Texas Food and Fuel Association—argue that the retailers they represent are being singled out by the increase. Collectively, they represent hundreds of independent convenience store, small grocery store, and gas station owners.
The ordinance was approved 9-2 by the San Antonio City Council in Jan. 2018, with the increase going into effect on Oct. 1. While it requires a person to be at least 21-years-old to purchase tobacco or alternatives such as e-cigarettes, the ordinance does not make the possession or use of such products by persons 18 to 20-years-old a crime. It was the first such increase to the tobacco purchasing age to pass in Texas.
Retailers are subject to fines of up to $500 for selling tobacco products to persons under 21-years-old, while an under age person attempting to purchase tobacco products would not be subject to any punishment.
It is this difference in who should be bear the burden of punishment that the lawsuit addresses most, with the increase described as being “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable and bears no substantial relationship to the public safety and welfare.” It goes on to say that it will not advance the city’s stated interest in lowering the prevalence of smoking in persons between the ages of 18 and 20-years-old, while having a disparate negative impact upon retailers. Without a punishment in place for the purchase, use or possession of tobacco products, the law “does not provide any incentive for those whose health is supposedly at issue to change their behavior.”
In addition to seeking for the increase to be declared unconstitutional and void, the plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages.
“After preliminary review of the complaint, we stand behind our ordinance and will prepare to defend it in federal court,” Andy Segovia, San Antonio City Attorney, said in a statement reported by CourthouseNews.com.
San Antonio has a population of nearly 1.5 million residents, making it the second most populous city in the state and the seventh most in the country. Its metropolitan area has an estimated 2.5 million residents, the 24th largest in the country.