When it comes to controversy over age restrictions, it’s usually the drinking age that attracts the flashiest news coverage and the most impassioned arguments — especially in Utah. But while smoking may normally take a backseat to liquor legislation, the issue is far from resolved. Now, Utah legislators are gearing up to push for a bump in smoking age restrictions, moving the current age of 19 up to 21. While proposed laws are yet to be set in stone, for young smokers in Utah, the prognosis is looking grim.
Legislators Propose Raising Utah Smoking Age By 2 Years
Currently, the legal smoking age in Utah is 19 — already one of the nation’s highest. (Utah is one of only four states in the country to set the age at 19 instead of 18, alongside New Jersey, Alaska, and Alabama.) But for legislators looking to cut down on smoking during the teenage years, it isn’t high enough.
Representative Kraig Powell (R-Heber City) thinks 19 is too young to be buying cigarettes. “…We think nothing of letting 19- or 20-year-olds suck something into their lungs that’s going to kill them,” Powell says — and in his eyes, it’s time to make a change. “If we can make sure that we keep them away from what everybody now admits are substances with no redeeming value, then I think we’ll be able to protect a lot of people from health damage and protect society from hundreds of millions of dollars in costs.”
Powell has the support of Senator Stuart Reid (R-Ogden). Together, they plan to push for a bill that would raise Utah’s smoking age to 21 not only for traditional cigarettes, but for electronic cigarettes (or “e-cigarettes”) and smokeless tobacco as well.
Critics Imply the Age Raise is Patronizing
While Powell and Reid are gung-ho about protecting the lungs of the young — and in turn the wallets of the nation’s healthcare system — others aren’t so sure. Dave Davis, President of the Utah Retail Merchants Association, is dismissive of Powell’s ideas. “If I’m old enough to vote, if I’m old enough to be drafted and fight for my country,” Davis asks, “am I old enough to make a decision as to whether or not to engage in smoking? It sort of begs the question: Why not set the age at 35 or 25?”
While lawmakers and politicians duke it out with the retail community, statistics sit quietly on the sidelines, ready to be wielded by both. According to the Utah Department of Health, the illegal sale of cigarettes to underage buyers — one of the main issues Powell and Reid want to address — is only down 6% from 2001.
On the other hand, since 1999, the number of high schoolers who have tried cigarettes has already decreased by an impressive 41%. Meanwhile, the Surgeon General estimates that a full 88% of adult smokers tried their first cigarette years before 18, or even 19 — in fact, the Utah Association of Local Health Departments pinpoints that age at 12.6 years old. If cigarettes are capturing smokers-to-be nearly a decade before the legal age kicks in, is increasing the age really going to help?
In Reid’s words, the increased age would be “logical and reasonable.” Dave Davis, citing the draft age, sees it as an insult to the decision-making abilities of young adults. Which camp is legally in the right? For now, Reid and Powell seem to have the edge: of the 14 members of the Health and Human Services Interim Committee, only five voted against the bill. Utah will find out for sure in 2014.
If you are in need of an Ogden attorney to discuss your legal rights, contact the law offices of Phillips & Skidmore today.