Cancer advocates say tobacco bill is flawed, encourage lawmakers to vote no

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to incrementally raise the age for tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, to 21 passed through the Utah Legislature Wednesday with a 15-12 vote in the Senate and a 55-16 concurrence vote in the House.

HB324, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, changes the age from 19 to 20 on July 1, 2020, and to 21 one year later. The bill raises the age for “obtaining, possessing, using, providing, or furnishing of tobacco products, paraphernalia, and under certain circumstances, electronic cigarettes.”

Arguments around this bill has centered on the debate of preemption, with cancer advocates speaking against an early version of the bill. The bill that passed made only one amendment to preemption language in current code, adding the minimum age of sale to what cannot be modified by cities and counties.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, the Senate sponsor of the bill, said this compromise would allow cities that have already raised the age for sale of tobacco, including Lehi and Cedar Hills, to keep the age at 21 instead of following the incremental age increase in the state.

She said addiction should not be shamed or criminalized, especially for youth. If youth get in trouble while they are building who they are as a person, they could define themselves as thugs or criminals.

“This is not about smokers, this is about protecting youth from having access to these addictive materials that the tobacco industry is pushing,” Tischler said.

According to Tischler, 800 youth in Utah each year become daily smokers, and vaping is especially a problem for youth because they have more access to it and it’s easier to hide from parents.

Jordan Osborne was part of an anti-tobacco youth group in Utah County and helped change laws to make parks tobacco free. But when he was 18, a friend a few years older bought him a vape pen and he became a smoker. He still vapes and occasionally smokes cigarettes. He said he doesn’t feel like he is addicted, but he gets aggravated when he hasn’t smoked.

“If they had the smoking age at 21 back then it would have made it even harder for me to even get (tobacco),” Osborne said.

He said if he had never started using tobacco he would be a lot healthier and wouldn’t have to have something to help him relax.

Cedar Hills and Lehi both passed ordinances in the last few weeks raising the age to buy tobacco to 21. But opponents to HB324 say language in the bill could stop other cities from making changes to local tobacco laws.

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February 22, 2019