Utah House advances bill that would raise age for tobacco purchases from 19 to 21

Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo Cigarette butts in the smoking lounge at the Salt Lake City International Airport Tuesday November 20, 2012.

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.