The Idaho House debated almost an hour Thursday before approving a bill supporters say will tighten laws aimed at keeping minors away from tobacco.
Critics, however, contend the measure would weaken current restrictions.
The American Cancer Society and the Idaho PTA, among other opponents, fear the tobacco industrysponsored measure could preempt cities and counties from enacting tougher ordinances against minors using or possessing tobacco products.
They also insist the bill is filled with loopholes aimed at protecting tobacco retailers, and that it actually will hurt enforcement efforts.
But backers cite provisions restricting vending machine sales, requiring parental permission before minors can be used in police “sting” operations against retailers, and eliminating retailer liability when minors use fake identification to show they are old enough to buy tobacco.
“This is an affirmative defense for retailers and will encourage retailers to check IDs,” said the bill’s floor sponsor, Rep. Lawrence Denney, R-Midvale. “The purpose of this legislation is not to see how much we can fine retailers, but to keep tobacco products out of the hands of young people.”
Denney also rejected arguments that local governments would be unable to put stricter laws in place.
The final vote was 39-29 to send the bill to the Senate. It came after a 29-40 vote rejecting an attempt by Rep. Mark Stubbs, R-Twin Falls, to put the measure up for an amendment aimed at ensuring local governments could take stronger action against underage tobacco use.
Rep. Margaret Henbest, D-Boise, objected to a provision that makes it clear minors could possess tobacco in the course of their employment, such as when cigarettes are in grocery bags carried to a customer’s car by a young supermarket employee. And a section eliminating the requirement for photo identification opens the door to other potential problems, she said.
“I think it’s a stretch, but could a note from your mother qualify as written documentation that you’re 18?” Henbest asked.
House Majority Floor Leader Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, also questioned why the bill contains a provision making it effective immediately upon legislative approval and the governor’s signature.
Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said all the changes purportedly aimed at denying minors access to tobacco seem to have escape clauses.
“If it has to do with the vending machines, there’s a way out,” Lake said. “If it has to do with the imposition of penalties, there’s a way out.”
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