Proposal To Raise Tobacco-Buying Age Has Unlikely Critic

Feb 22, 2019

A proposal to raise the age to buy cigarettes in Utah has an unlikely critic — the American Cancer Society's Action Network, which argues the law should target retailers for penalties rather than buyers.

While the group supports raising the tobacco-buying age to 21, it also opposes a phased-in approach that would be fully in place by January 2021.

"I think for us, the devil's in the details," said Brook Carlisle, the group's government relations director for Utah.

Republican sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason said he's befuddled by the opposition, which mainly relates to parts of the law his proposal would leave unchanged. Existing law imposes fines of up to $60 and requires tobacco-cessation classes for teenagers who buy tobacco under the current limit of 19 years old.

"It's an extremely unusual reason to oppose a bill that it leaves in place the current law, when it's actually changing the most significant component of the law that they believe would prevent cancer," he said. His bill would also raise the minimum age for e-cigarette purchases.

Two Utah cities, Lehi and Cedar Hills, have moved to raise the age to 21 for local purchases, moves the action network supports. Carlisle would also like to see Utah remove legal language that can be interpreted as blocking local governments from enacting their own bans.

Six states have already passed laws aimed at preventing young people from taking up the habit that often continues into adulthood.

Eliason's bill hasn't yet had a hearing.