New Jerseys’ teens may have something else to gripe about in the coming months, as new legislation is being considered that would raise the minimum age allowed to purchase tobacco products to 21. Our current minimum is 19, which is still higher than most states in the country, which are at 18. Pennsylvania, currently at 18, is also considering a similar switch to 21. This is an ongoing controversial issue with plenty of outspoken supporters and opponents on both sides.
Organizations in Support: Health advocates are the biggest supporters of this measure, and believe that adding this additional blockage to the purchase of tobacco products would keep teens healthier as it further restricts their access to cigarettes and related products. The Institute of Medicine cites a 12% drop in tobacco usage among young people if the smoking age is increased to 21. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in New Jersey, nearly 13 percent of all high school students are smokers. This is slightly lower than the national rate of 15.7 percent.
Politicians in Support: The current tobacco bill being considered by the NJ Appropriations Committee was approved by the state Senate in 2014, and was co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, a Democrat representing Camden. Senator Richard Codey of Essex said that those in opposition to the bill are concerned with their own profits, while his interest and that of the law is in saving the lives of the young people in New Jersey.
In Opposition: Two of the major retailers for cigarettes, gas stations and convenience stores, have been vocally against the tobacco bill. The executive director of the Gasoline Convenience Store Automotive Association, Sal Risalvato, said that while the measure looks and feels good, it will no actually deter young people from accessing the cigarettes if they want them.
The tobacco bill and similar ones in other states have also received opposition from some veterans groups across the country, who believe that the age of tobacco usage should more accurately reflect the maturity of young people being asked to fight for their country. With an estimated $19 million in tax revenue, the tobacco bill would also call for a $500 fine the first time a vendor sells to anyone under 21, and a $1,000 fine for secondary and subsequent offenses.
Other States: The first state to pass the “21 to smoke” bill was Hawaii, which now carries a $10 fee for the first offense and $50 for subsequent charges, or a potential option of mandatory community service. The laws there restrict teens from smoking, buying, or having either regular cigarettes or “e-cigs”.
In California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Washington, similar tobacco bills have been introduced and others are pending. New York City has also passed its own ordinance which prohibits the sale of tobacco products to those younger than 21.
Should this law pass, it may mean additional legal trouble for young people who have gotten used to using tobacco legally, and are now no longer permitted to do so. If your teen Is under the designated age and is caught purchasing tobacco, don’t let a stupid decision effect the rest of his or her life. Contact me, David C. Barry for a free consultation at 732-238-8686 today.