Students weigh in on smoking age bill

Utah is one of four states to set the legal smoking age to 19 years old. But the District of Columbia, Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah are now home to the strictest policy regarding legal smoking age.

In October 2013, New York City passed a bill raising the legal smoking age to 21 instead of 18. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who signed the bill into law, was quoted as saying, “We know that tobacco dependence can begin very soon after a young person first tries smoking, so it’s critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start.”

Some Utah lawmakers are hoping to follow Bloomberg’s example.

Senate Bill 12, a new bill that, if passed, would raise Utah’s legal smoking and tobacco product purchase age to 21, has already gone to senate and now sits at the standing committee.

The Senate’s standing committee on health and human services is now solely responsible for making a recommendation, hold, table amend or substitute for the bill. As of Feb. 3, the bill has been amended by the Senate committee headed by the Office of Research and General Counsel to include the date the law would take effect: July 1, 2016.

The Age Limit for Tobacco and Related Products Bill, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid (R-Ogden), would establish punishment for merchants who sell to underage smokers.

The bill states any person who knowingly, intentionally, recklessly or with criminal negligence provides any cigar, cigarette, electronic cigarette or tobacco in any form to an individual younger than 21 is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor on the first offense.

During a Health and Human Services Interim Committee meeting in November 2013, Reid explained why he is sponsoring the bill. “(There are) regulations . . . that prevent harm to society at the expense of some personal liberty,” he said. “There must be a balance between freedom and what is best for society.”

Ginnia Shidler, a Weber State University junior majoring in social work, said she thinks 19 years old is too young to purchase tobacco products, and finds 21 to be a better fit. “I personally think that if you can drink at that age, you can smoke at that age.”

Brendan Bliss, a sophomore majoring in microbiology, agreed with Shidler.

“It doesn’t make sense that the smoking law would be different than the drinking law,” Blisss said. “I feel like they’re pretty similar in nature. Dropping the drinking age or raising the smoking age would make more sense.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in its 2010 report that just more than 9 percent of Utahns smoke. Utah has the lowest number in the country of smokers within its borders. Serious illnesses such as lung cancer, heart disease and pancreatic cancer have been known to dramatically reduce the lifespan of smokers.

Some WSU students said a change is needed in Utah, but that increasing the smoking age is not an ideal solution. Elizabeth Hansen, a senior majoring in criminal justice, said people are going to smoke, and “criminalizing addictive substances doesn’t help anything.”