Utah could raise smoking age to 21

November 25, 2013
(Mark Finkensteadt/For The Washington Post)
(Mark Finkensteadt/For The Washington Post)

Utah legislators will vote next year on a measure that would raise the legal smoking age to 21, after an interim panel voted last week to advance the bill.

Utah already has the highest legal smoking age in the country, 19. Three other states — Alaska, Alabama and New Jersey — also prohibit anyone under 19 from using tobacco products.

The committee holding hearings on bills that will come up in the 2014 legislative session voted overwhelmingly to advance the measure. Just five of the 14 members voted against raising the legal age of possession.

Proposals to raise the smoking age are likely to come up in several other legislatures next year. The Salt Lake Tribune reported similar measures will come before legislatures in Hawaii, New Jersey, Colorado and Texas.

Utah health department officials say raising the legal smoking age will cut down on underage tobacco use. The overwhelming majority of tobacco products used by children under age 18 are purchased legally by those under age 21, the officials said; raising the age limit would help block that conduit.

Cameron Mitchell, who heads the Utah Association of Local Health Departments, said the average Utah resident tries his or her first cigarette at age 12.6, the Tribune reported. A study in Needham, Mass., where the smoking age was raised to 21 in 2005, showed smoking rates among high school students dropped by 50 percent in 2012.

Two-thirds of adults who smoke started using tobacco products at age 18 or younger, according to the American Lung Association.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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