Utah Legislature decides to raise the legal age to use tobacco from 19 to 21 — except for active duty military

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

Though the bill “befuddled” at least one lawmaker, the Utah Senate voted 15-12 for a bill that would raise the legal age for buying and using tobacco and e-cigarettes from 19 to 21 across the state — except for active duty military members, their spouses and dependents.

The House later voted 55-16 to approve the Senate amendments, and sent the bill to Gov. Gary Herbert for final action.

HB324 “phases in a standard that says over the next couple years that you need to be 21 to buy, possess, purchase [and] use tobacco products,” said Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, noting that “research shows 95 percent of tobacco users start using tobacco products before the age of 21.”

But Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, said she was both “baffled” and “befuddled” by the military exemption.

“If we are saying that good public policy means that we don’t want anyone under the age of 21 to use tobacco products, why are we exempting anybody?” she asked, arguing that if the state decides some adults are responsible enough to make the decision, all should be.

Bramble, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said the proposal achieves a compromise, recognizing that increasing the smoking age could prevent many young people from becoming nicotine-dependent while their brains are still developing while allowing young people who are old enough to make the decision to join the military and possibly be sent to war to make the choice of whether to smoke for themselves.

“Smoking is dangerous but carrying a gun in a combat zone is dangerous as well,” he said.

Two cities in Utah — Lehi and Cedar Hills — have already passed their own ordinances on the smoking age. And Provo is poised to be the third if this bill doesn’t pass. Some anti-smoking advocates prefer the city-by-city approach to the state bill.