Provo backs bill to raise legal tobacco age to 21 statewide in Utah. The City Council has a fallback if it fails.

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) A pro e-cigarette supporter holds "I VAPE - I VOTE" signs behind the large "OUTRAGE!" group who were there to push for a bill that would change the allowed age to buy tobacco products from 19 to 21 during a rally in the Utah Capitol Rotunda, February 17, 2016.

Provo • The City Council voted to support a bill currently going through the Utah Legislature that would raise the legal tobacco purchasing age statewide from 19 to 21.

HB324 has passed the House and is set for a Senate committee hearing Thursday. If the bill fails to pass the Senate, the council said it would consider a citywide ordinance raising the legal tobacco age.

Provo Council members met Tuesday night and approved the resolution on a 5-1 vote. Councilman Kay Van Buren cast the sole opposing vote. He said while he doesn’t condone tobacco use, a 19-year old is as much an adult as a 21-year old and should be able to make his or her own health decisions.

Lehi City Council passed a similar ordinance last month raising the legal age for tobacco and e-cigarettes, becoming the first Utah city to do so. Cedar Hills followed suit not long afterwards. Provo, if it took such action, would become the third city to set its own policy on the issue.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, is sponsoring HB324, which would gradually raise the legal age from 19 to 21 over the course of several years.

Marc Watterson, government relations director at the American Heart Association, urged Provo to adopt its own ordinance even if Eliason’s bill passes. He said this is a good idea because the council would then be able to control when the policy goes into effect — it wouldn’t take several years.

“We know that through increasing the purchasing age we are not only giving youth a better chance of avoiding a life of addiction but we are also helping to cut down on the number of products available to younger consumers,” Watterson said.

He outlined the substitute bill now being considered by the Senate that would strip the pre-emptive language from HB324.

Cities should support the substitute because the original draft would have taken away local governments’ power to oversee tobacco policies, Watterson said, and would rescind any city ordinances already passed.

“To be honest with you, this is an attempt by the tobacco industry to try and limit the local authority of cities and communities to try and govern for themselves what tobacco products can be advertised and marketed,” he said.

“It is very important that local municipalities have the ability to dictate tobacco ordinances within their own jurisdiction,” he said.

The American Cancer Society also has supported the effort by cities to adopt local ordinances raising the legal tobacco age.