24 States Seek To Raise Tobacco Purchase Age

24 States Seek To Raise Tobacco Purchase Age

Two dozen U.S. states have introduced some form of legislation this year that seeks to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 years old. Currently, only Hawaii and California have enacted such laws, but the sheer amount of proposed legislation is an indication that more states could soon follow suit.

Of the 24 bills introduced during the 2017 legislative season, five states—Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa and Utah—have already defeated their respective bills. The majority of active legislation has either yet to reach their state senates or are under examination by various committees.

Oregon's Senate Bill 754 includes language that would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 and was passed by the Senate last Thursday. The bill is now heading to the House, where, according to the Cigar Association of America, there is "significant support" for it.

On the same day Oregon's bill passed, Vermont state senators voted 15–13 to increase the purchase age in The Green Mountain State from 18 to 21. That bill, however, was tabled the following day before heading to the Committee on Finance. According to the Associated Press, the Senate may reintroduce the bill, but only if they find more votes.

Cigar advocacy groups like the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers association have had success fighting age increases in various states. Last year, an age hike to 21 was defeated in Utah. In 2015, bills with similar language did not pass in Maryland and Colorado. However, some believe it is only a matter of time before the bills in liberal states ultimately succeed.

"We've seen this trend coming for a number of years," said Matt Dogali, senior director of state legislative affairs for the IPCPR. "For [the premium cigar industry], the loss of the 18 to 21 demographic isn't going to harm retailers, but it's a matter of principle. It's bad public policy."

The uptick in legislation is part of a growing faction of the anti-smoking movement supporting states' efforts to raise the tobacco purchase age. In some states, the policy decisions of lawmakers are beginning to sway in their favor.

"Bills have died in Oregon in the past," said Dogali, "but now, they have two Republican senators [Jackie Winters and Bill Hansell] who support it."

Those who support the age hikes, such as the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation and its Tobacco 21 coalition, argue that early exposure to tobacco permanently alters neuroreceptors that fuel long-term nicotine addictions. But those who oppose these advocacy groups believe the anti-youth smoking rhetoric to be insincere, arguing that it is not about youth smoking, it's about being anti-smoking of all kinds, even for adults.

"The health groups believe no one should be smoking. They first started with 19 then moved to 21," said Craig Williamson, president of the Cigar Association of America.

In 2015, the Institute of Medicine published a report of its study predicting "the likely public health outcomes of raising the minimum age for purchase of tobacco products to 21 years and 25 years." The study was contracted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the agency that now holds regulatory control over the tobacco industry.

"CAA will continue to fight all these bills in the states as well as local communities," said Williamson. "We have a good track record in the states; it is harder in local communities."

The states where active legislation is threatening an age hike to 21 years old include Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.

In January of 2016, Hawaii became the first state to raise the minimum purchase age to 21, with California following shortly thereafter.