Utah, Colorado move to hike smoking age to 21

8:33 AM, Feb 22, 2014   |    comments
A proposal to raise the tobacco age to 21 in Colorado is up for its first review in the state Legislature. The bipartisan bill would make Colorado the first with a statewide 21-to-smoke law. (Photo: Brennan Linsley, AP)
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(USA Today)-- Lawmakers in Colorado and Utah have taken a step toward becoming the first states to regulate cigarettes like alcohol by boosting the smoking age to 21.

Legislative committees in each state passed similar measures Thursday to ban young adults 18 to 20 years old from buying, possessing and consuming tobacco. The bills face additional votes and the signature of each state's governor before becoming law.

Utah and three other states already have the highest age for buying tobacco - 19. If enacted, the bill (SB 12) would take effect in July 2016, allowing 19- and 20-year-old smokers to keep on puffing.

The Colorado measure (HB14-1263) would likewise grandfather in smokers 18 to 20 years old, meaning the higher legal age would not take full effect for four years, when the 17-year-olds of today turn 21.

Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey are also considering bills to keep tobacco from the hands and lungs of young adults.

Last year, New York City and Hawaii County, Hawaii, boosted the tobacco age to 21, while Maryland lawmakers defeated a bill in January to raise the smoking age.

Another Utah proposal could make the state the first to regulate e-cigarettes like tobacco, prohibiting the sale of the electronic nicotine substitute to anyone under 19. The bill awaits action in the full Utah House.

Florida lawmakers are considering similar restrictions on e-cigarettes.

Last year, researchers reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine that 90% of daily U.S. smokers have their first cigarette by age 18 years of age, and that young adults between 18 and 20 years old bought about 90% of the cigarettes for minors.

In Utah, the average age that youths begin smoking is about 13 years old, a state health department survey found last year.

"Delaying the age that youth can legally use tobacco will reduce the risk that they will become regular smokers as they get older," Kevin Nelson, a pediatrician and an instructor at the University of Utah School of Medicine, wrote in an opinion piece inThe Salt Lake Tribune. "Estimates indicate that raising the legal age would not only curb smoking prevalence among youth, but the rates for adults would also slowly decline over time."

Nelson, who founded the Utah Tobacco Prevention Task Force, cited CDC figures that show the state could save much of the $830 million spent annually on tobacco-related health care costs and lost productivity.

Utah has the nation's lowest prevalence of smoking (10.6%), while Kentucky has the highest (28.3%), according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Overall, the prevalence of smoking among adults 18 and older nationwide declined from 20.9% in 2005 to 18.1% in 2012.

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, 17.3% of adults ages 18 to 24 smoked.

Though rates for women have risen, cigarette smoking remains more common among men than women - 20.5% to 15.8%.

The CDC reports that 42.1 million Americans smoke cigarettes and that more than 16 million people suffer from a disease caused by smoking.

Every year, one in five deaths - more than 480,000 - is attributable to cigarettes.

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