SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal advancing in the Utah Legislature could make the state the first in the country to raise the age people can buy tobacco products from 19 to 21.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 4-1 on Thursday morning to approve the measure, forwarding it to the full Senate for a vote.
Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, is sponsoring the bill, which he said could prevent young people from becoming addicted to tobacco because it delays their access to it.
His bill would take effect in 2016, which he said gives the 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who already smoke enough time to reach the new minimum age.
Opponents of his bill argue there's no evidence to support that.
Instead, they say the measure infringes on the freedom of young adults.
Utah is already among a handful of states that ban sales for those under 19 years old, instead of 18.
Last year, New York City became the first large city or state in the country to bar tobacco sales to people under 21.
Reid's bill could make Utah the first state to follow New York City's ban, though Colorado legislators are also considering a similar measure this year.
Lehi resident Marla Brannum, a mother of three children, urged lawmakers to pass the bill, saying it would "drastically eliminate" the ability of her kids to access cigarettes.
"By raising the age limit, it puts them in a situation where they're not going to pick it up until a much later age," she said.
Claudia Fruin, a Salt Lake City-area pediatrician, told lawmakers that they've already passed restrictions barring drinking or gambling before 21.
She asked why they haven't taken similar steps to make it harder for young adults "to take up the dead-end habit of smoking."
About 1 in 10 adults in Utah smokes, according to the most recent report from Utah Department of Health's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.
Of those roughly 200,000 smokers, almost 90 percent of them started before age 18, according to the report.
Utah Food Industry Association President Dave Davis said the retailers he represents, which include those selling tobacco, oppose the bill.
No one disputes the health effects of cigarettes, he said, but the bill is not about discouraging youth smokers.
"This prevents folks that we have determined are legal adults from getting access to a legal product," Davis said.
West Valley City Republican Sen. Daniel Thatcher, who voted for the bill on Thursday, said he did to further the discussion with the rest of the Senate.
But Thatcher said he's planning to vote against the measure next time, unless he can be convinced of an overriding public need to raise the age.
"We're talking about 19- and 20-year-olds," he said. "To my mind, they're not children."
Thatcher noted that the government recognizes 18-year-olds as adults when it comes to voting, debt and other situations.
"I hate the idea," he said, "of the government telling people that they can't do stupid things."
SB 12: http://1.usa.gov/1eaSQfY