Utah moved one step closer on Friday to raising the age for buying tobacco and e-cigarettes from 19 to 21 across the state.
House lawmakers approved a so-called tobacco 21 bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason by a vote of 47-19 after stripping out pre-emption language that critics said would tie the hands of local governments. In pitching his bill, Eliason said increasing the smoking age could prevent many young people from becoming nicotine-dependent while their brains are still developing.
“I think this is one of the most important things we can do for the health and well-being of our youth this session,” Eliason, a Sandy Republican, said.
Interest groups and the tobacco industry had supported adding the pre-emption language that was included while the bill, HB324, was in committee, Eliason said. But Rep. Paul Ray made a successful push on the House floor to delete that language, saying it would yield a cleaner bill.
“It just gets us back to what we should be debating,” Ray, R-Clearfield, said.
Two cities in Utah — Lehi and Cedar Hills — have already been moving ahead with their own ordinances on the smoking age. Cedar Hills recently became the second city in Utah to increase the tobacco and e-cigarette purchasing age from 19 to 21, and Eliason has said passing his bill would prevent a “patchwork” of different laws from developing around the state if other local governments follow suit, as expected.
The legislation will now move to the state Senate.