SALT LAKE CITY — On the same day a state lawmaker submitted a bill to raise the age for someone to buy tobacco to 21, a Utah County city took just that step.
Lehi City Council voted unanimously to raise the age limit for tobacco products Tuesday night.
Earlier in the day, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, finished HB324, which was introduced into the House of Representatives on Wednesday and placed in the Rules Committee. The bill would raise the minimum age for obtaining, possessing, using, providing or furnishing tobacco products, paraphernalia, "and under certain circumstances, electronic smoking devices" from 19 to 20 then to 21 years of age over time. He said this is the third year he has sponsored a bill to raise the age limit.
"The data speaks clearly," Eliason said, explaining he spoke with directors of health departments who all said it is the most important bill he could run for public health.
Brook Carlisle, government relations director with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21, with ages 18-21 being critical years where many people become daily smokers.
"Each year about 800 kids in Utah under the age of 18 become daily smokers, and if we don’t act and stop this now we have about 39,000 kids who are alive today who will eventually die from tobacco-related illness," Carlisle told Lehi council members.
Utah PTA Health Commissioner DeAnn Kettenring told city officials the change is necessary to stop younger teens from smoking. She said adults ages 18-20 provide 90 percent of the tobacco to younger people.
Kettenring said she had a son who began smoking in junior high after he got cigarettes from a friend who had an older brother who was 19. Once her son turned 19, he started supplying cigarettes to younger friends.
"This is just one more thing to protect our kids, and the research shows that it does protect our kids," Kettenring said.
She also discussed the increase in vaping, and said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 78 percent increase in youth use of e-cigarettes, which are included in this bill.
"It’s been touted as a cessation device … but our kids are using it to get addicted," Kettenring said.
For the last seven years there has been an effort to make this change at the state level, according to Marc Watterson, from the American Heart Association. Three of those years the bill didn't even receive a committee hearing.
"(Tobacco's) intended use, if it is used correctly, is to get people sick and to eventually cause death. It’s the only product that we allow on the market that if used as intended, will result in premature death," Watterson said.
He said six states and more than 425 cities and counties have raised the age to 21. Utah's age limit for purchasing tobacco is 19, which is higher than the national law of 18.
Watterson also said in the six states who have made the change — California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine — the law was passed in local communities first.
Councilman Paul Hancock said that made him feel more strongly that Lehi should pass this law.12 comments on this story
"This is an opportunity for us to show the state Legislature that they need to get their act together," Hancock said.
Eliason said he thinks the outcome of his bill will be different this year. He said he now has the support of the Huntsman Cancer Institute and many of the largest tobacco companies.
Watterson said this is not an issue of when a person becomes an adult, but how to set up young people for success.
"If we can try and prevent their access to these tobacco products earlier … it’s going to have a huge health impact for our youth now and adults going forward," Watterson said.