Utah's smoking age may rise to 21

Oct 2 2013 - 3:00pm

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Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden.
Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden.

OGDEN - Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, will run legislation to raise the smoking age to 21 in Utah, which would give the Beehive state the highest smoking age in the nation.

Reid said a bill to raise the smoking age will go before a legislative committee this month, which is a key step to getting the measure ready for the legislative session in 2014.

He expects there to be support for the measure and said it is not a message bill.

He said he expects the measure to be co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City.

A draft of the legislation is still being crafted but the measure is listed as an age limit for tobacco and related products, under the senator's name on the Legislature's website.

Utah's smoking age is currently 19, which is the highest in the nation along with Alaska, Alabama and New Jersey.

Reid's bill to look at raising the smoking age isn't a first, as similar measures have been introduced in New York, Texas and New Jersey.

"We fully expect it to pass," Reid said.

He described the bill as another measure to discourage smoking in teens. He said if a person reaches the age of 20 without the habit, there is a good chance he or she will never take it up. He said it is important to look at the societal impact of the current smoking age.

He said legislation run during the 2013 session focused on limiting smoking in cars in the presence of children. He thinks the climate is right for the age measure to be considered.

Pressed on whether raising the age at which it is legal to smoke would pose an enforcement problem, the Ogden senator said it won't be any more difficult to enforce than current limits for drinking.

Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, calls Reid's legislation misguided. He said criminalizing legal adults from engaging in a behavior harmful to themselves is not the proper role of government.

"Utah law should protect people from harm by others, not micromanage their lives to minimize harm they may bring to themselves," Boyack said.

Boyack argued 18-year-olds are adults by legal definition, so people could legally join the military, but not smoke.

He said the legislation is misguided but said people should seek ways to encourage young adults to avoid addictive, self-destructive behavior. "Non-profit organizations, parent groups, health insurance agencies, churches and other voluntary institutions should coordinate their efforts and work through persuasion to combat tobacco and other addictions.  However it happens, the state should play no part," Boyack said.

Reid's measure does have support from the medical community.

Mark Fotheringham, a spokesman for the Utah Medical Association, said the association has supported raising the smoke age to 21 since 1986.

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