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Bill to raise smoking age goes up in flames

Published March 3, 2014 6:10 pm

Choice • Senators complain bill interferes adults' right to choose legal product.
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The Senate sent up in flames Monday an attempt to raise Utah's already highest-among-the-states smoking age a little higher, from 19 to 21.

The Senate voted down SB12 on a 12-16 vote, after arguments that raising the smoking age would interfere with adults' right to use a legal product, could make someone old enough to go to war a criminal for smoking, and could cost the state millions a year in tobacco tax.

"These are not children," Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said about the 19- and 20-year olds who would be banned from smoking under the bill — even though she adds she hates smoking.

"I can send my son to war" at 18, she said. "He comes back and I say, 'You can't have a cigarette, it's bad for you?' " She added at 18, people can marry, have families and vote, but legislators would say, "You can't do this one thing over here because we're smarter than you."

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, pushed the bill saying it would help prevent more teenagers from smoking because studies show most of them obtain their cigarettes from slightly older 19- and 20-year olds.

Also, he said studies show that "if don't you don't smoke before the age of 21, you are highly unlikely to smoke at all." Another plus to the measure, he said, was that it would match the state's legal age for drinking at 21.

"There is no inherent value in smoking. None whatsoever," Reid said. "It is destructive in every way, shape and form… When we identify something of no inherent value, we put limitations on it."

Some lawmakers were concerned about the $2.67 million a year tax hit that fiscal analysts estimated.

Reid's bill would have escaped competing for funding now to cover that loss because it would not take until July 1, 2016, which he said was designed to allow 19- and 20-year olds now smoking legally to reach age 21 before the bill took effect.

But Sens. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, and Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said passing it now could set it up to raid funds automatically in two years that other programs might need. Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, added she hates that tobacco tax funds many health programs that could be hurt by reducing that revenue.

"If we were going to outlaw smoking, that would be a whole other issue. But we keep trying to cut around the edges," she said. "My no vote on this bill is not because I think smoking is a good thing. But I don't think this is the right way to address this issue."

Also, senators including Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, worried aloud that the law could create criminal records for adults for smoking a cigarette, and also would be tough to enforce.

Despite objections, Reid unsuccessfully urged senators to make Utah the first state to raise the smoking age to 21.

"It makes sense for Utah to lead out on this and set the example and make a statement to the nation that there's nothing valuable in allowing young people to smoke," Reid said.

The legal age to buy, sell or possess tobacco in most states is 18, with four exceptions. It is 19 in Utah, Alaska, Alabama and New Jersey. New York City just approved raising the age to 21, as have some other U.S. cities




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