By Adam Droge
SALT LAKE CITY – A bill that would raise the age limit for those who purchase tobacco products to age 21 narrowly passed committee Thursday, Feb. 20, yet could be in trouble when it gets to the Senate floor.
SB12 proposes that the age limit for purchasing tobacco and other related products be raised from age 19 to age 21. The committee meeting that the bill was debated in was so full that an additional overflow room needed to be set up in order to accommodate everyone that wanted to attend.
Opinions were split and emotions were high on both sides.
Several medical experts testified about the danger of tobacco products and the impact that raising the age limit would have. Heather Borski from the Utah Department of Health presented data that showed that the majority of people start smoking before the age of 21, with the percentage doubling between the ages of 19 and 21. She also presented data that showed that most get their cigarettes from people also under the age of 21. Such data, she said, shows that increasing the age limit would decrease the number of people who start smoking.
Borski said, “Reduced tobacco rates resulting from SB12 will improve health, reduce health care costs, and increase worker productivity. And for these reasons, and in the interest of public health, the Utah Department of Health supports this bill.”
Betty Larson who spoke of her experience smoking at the age of 19 gave an emotional testimony in support of the bill.
Larson said, “My ideas and ideals changed by the time I was 21. If they weren’t available to me, I would never had started smoking.”
Out of those who opposed the bill, none argued the notion that cigarettes were bad. What they did argue was government involvement in the issue, stating that 19- and 20-year-olds are adults that have a legal right to these products and if they are banned, they will just find ways to get them anyways.
Tom Lewis, a 78-year-old man representing himself, said, “We are placing our children at risk and giving them criminal records. This isn’t doing them a favor. This is hurting them.”
Of the five senators voting in the committee, the official vote was 4-1 in favor of the bill. Although during the vote, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley, admitted that he was willing to pass it onto the Senate for further consideration, but his vote would most likely be no when that next vote comes. Thus the bill is likely to become a hot topic when it hits the Senate floor and could have a hard time passing.