A proposed law raising the legal age to buy tobacco in Utah was given a favorable recommendation from the Utah Legislature’s Health and Human Services Interim Committee Wednesday morning.
The legislation was a joint effort from Senator Stuart Reid (Republican – Ogden) and Representative Kraig Powell (Republican – Heber City), and if passed will raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco, e-cigarettes, and tobacco paraphernalia from 19 to 21.
Beverly May, regional advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, spoke at length to the committee about the virtues of raising the smoking age. “Increasing the legal age of sale is likely to have a significant impact in reducing tobacco use among the young and limit their access to this highly addictive, deadly product. Young brains are still developing through the teen years and offsetting the daily use of tobacco products will reduce the addiction and dependency on nicotine. Any effort to prevent tobacco use among young people is worthwhile. It will save lives,” May told the committee.
Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck (Democrat – Salt Lake City) spoke in favor of the legislation. “For me this is a public health issue… I think that the public health arguments are very, very compelling.”
Senator Todd Weiler (Republican – Woods Cross), spoke against the legislation, stating that he sees no reason why the age of 21 is better or worse than the current legal smoking age of 19 or a hypothetical year such as 25.
Reid has argued in the past that as a individual gets older, they are less likely to start smoking in the first place. By raising the legal age of tobacco consumption, Reid hopes that fewer people will pick up the habit in the Beehive State. Opponents have largely focused on individual rights over states’ rights, acknowledging that although smoking may be a bad habit and a health risk, individuals should have the right to make that decision once they become an adult.
While the legal age to purchase tobacco has been 19 for some time in Utah, until 2010 it was legal to smoke tobacco at 18. That was changed in 2010, when lawmakers made it illegal to use tobacco until Utahns reached the purchasing-age of 19.
If passed, Utah would become the first state to raise the smoking age to 21 statewide. The only other place with such a high limit is New York City, where the NYC city council voted to raise the smoking age in the five boroughs to 21 back on October 30th.
With the interim committee’s favorable recommendation, the bill will move forward once the 2014 legislative session begins in January.