New Jersey Lawmakers Vote to Increase Smoking Age to 21
If you are a young adult living in New Jersey, you have an overwhelming number of opportunities to explore. Once you turn 18 years old, you can buy a house, vote, enlist in the military, and even pay taxes. The world is your oyster and you are free to set your course in life now that you are officially an adult. Of course, there is one tiny exception. You can’t buy cigarettes or electronic cigarettes.
New Jersey lawmakers first raised the legal smoking age to 19 in 2006. However, a handful of senators were not content with that one-year difference and they sponsored a new bill to increase the smoking age to 21. This week, the senate committee voted 6-2 to approve the bill and now it’s on its way to a senate vote for final approval.
Senator Richard Codey and Senator Joseph Vitale pushed the bill forward, insisting that the legal age to buy tobacco products and ecigs needed to increase to 21 in order to protect vulnerable young adults from making bad decisions. Of course, the senators don’t have a problem with those young adults defending our freedom on the front lines of the military, but they are going to great lengths to insure that they don’t smoke cigarettes.
There has been a mixed response to the bill and critics insist that changing the legal age limits won’t be effective. After all, if a smokers want to buy cigarettes, they will find a way even if they are 19 or 20 years old. However, Senator Codey disagrees. “There is a segment of society that will obey the law. The more we can discourage our youth from taking up this terrible habit of smoking, we will improve their lives,” he said.
Karen Blumenfeld from the Global Advisers on Smokefree Policy stood behind Senator Codey and praised the lawmakers for taking steps to prevent tobacco use among the young adult population. “We know 90 percent of youth start to smoke before they turn 21. At that age they are very vulnerable,” she said.
However, not everyone is so convinced. Sal Risalvato, the executive director at the NJ Gasoline-Convenience-Automotive Association, said that changing the age limit would put unnecessary strain on employees in convenience stores and gas stations. For hundreds of employees, the change would mean turning away customers that were previously permitted to buy tobacco. It would create an awkward and stressful situation for everyone involved. “We have a major concern that unlike alcohol, we are not criminalizing the use of tobacco or possession of it. We’re putting my members in a difficult position. It’s illegal for them to sell it and the onus and penalty are entirely on them,” said Risalvato.
Senator Vitale dismissed Risalvato’s remarks as exaggerated. “They ask for ID. This isn’t a TSA screening process,” Vitale insisted. “You are probably asking many of the same people for their ID. They probably look the same…. There will be less individuals able to legally purchase cigarettes which would affect the bottom line, but I don’t know if that is an argument anyone is sympathetic to,” he said.
Despite adamant support from Sens. Vitale and Codey, not all lawmakers were in favor of making the change. Senator Ronald Rice voted against the bill, calling it unjust for young adults to be permitted to serve in the military, buy property, and pay taxes, but prohibiting the same people from purchasing cigarettes. “I’m getting tired of folk trying to tell adults what to do,” he said.
Now that the bill has passed the initial committee vote, it will move forward to Senate for approval. What do you think of this latest attempt to stifle tobacco sales? Will it actually deter young people from smoking and vaping or is this new bill just a waste of time?