SALT LAKE CITY – The legal age for using tobacco in Utah could become the highest in the nation if a bill moving through the state Legislature is approved. State Sen. Stuart Reid is sponsoring Senate Bill 12, which would increase the legal age for smoking from 19 to 21.
Reid said the Legislature is showing early support for the measure, with the bill getting nearly unanimous approval from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The committee vote is usually a good indicator of overall support for proposed legislation, he noted.
“That’ll send a message to the entire Senate that those who deal with these issues the most, that committee approved it, so that will have an influence overall for the rest of the Senate,” Reid said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Utah has the nation’s lowest overall smoking rate at 12 percent. Also, the CDC reports that more than 400,000 Americans die each year from a smoking-related illness, and several million are living with a tobacco-caused illness.
Reid said research shows that young smokers often get cigarettes from older teens, so limiting the availability of tobacco will likely stop many young people from picking up the deadly habit.
“It we can stop tobacco use under the age of 21, it’s far less likely that young people will ever begin smoking,” Reid said. “And certainly if they don’t begin, they won’t get addicted and suffer all of the consequences of tobacco use on their health and eventual death.”
Reid said the penalties for underage smoking under the new law would be the same as they are now. In Utah, underage smoking is a Class C misdemeanor, which can bring a $60 fine and a tobacco education class.
Similar “21-for-tobacco” bills are reported to be under consideration in Colorado, Massachusetts and other states.