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Analysis: 4,700 fewer smokers in Utah if legal age is raised to 21

Published February 11, 2014 5:47 pm

SB12 • It would also cost the state $2.67 million in taxes a year.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If the Legislature raises Utah's smoking age to 21 from 19 — already highest in the country — legislative analysts estimate 4,700 fewer Utahns will smoke and buy tobacco.

While that is exactly what Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, seeks with his SB12, analysts also figure it will cost the state $2.67 million a year in lost tax revenue. And under legislative rules, appropriations committees would need to cover that loss somehow by cutting spending or finding more revenue elsewhere before the bill could receive final approval.

Reid made a pitch Tuesday to the Senate business and economic development budget committee to come up with that sum, saying it's a wise investment. He also said he is trying to convince analysts the loss will not be as big as projected.

"There's obviously some savings" in health spending if people quit smoking, he argued, although that has not been included in the analysts' estimate.

Reid also agued that sales taxes overall would not decline. "I think it's pretty clear that if people stop smoking, that money's not going to go away. They'll spend it on other issues, other items," he said.

According to Reid, a recent Dan Jones and Associates survey said 67 percent of Utahns favor the bill. He also joked, "I'm going to call it a clean-air bill, because I know if it's a clean-air bill, everything will pass."

Reid's bill was endorsed in November by the health and human services interim committee, but has not yet been formally introduced in the general session.

Numerous health departments and anti-tobacco groups support the bill. They say studies find that most young teenagers obtain cigarettes illegally from adults who themselves are barely old enough to buy them. So they argue that raising the legal smoking age will reduce smoking by teens.

Reid also argues that it makes sense to match Utah's legal drinking age of 21.

However, the bill has been opposed by groups that argue it infringes on the personal freedom of adults.

The legal age to buy, sell or possess tobacco in most states is 18, with four exceptions: It is 19 in Utah, Alaska, Alabama and New Jersey. However, some cities in the nation, including New York City, have raised that age limit to 21.