BOISE – The Senate State Affairs Committee introduced legislation Wednesday that would raise the legal age of tobacco use in Idaho from 18 to 21.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, is intended to make it more difficult for minors and young adults to take up smoking or tobacco use. The age restriction also would apply to the sale and use of e-cigarettes.
Tobacco 21 Idaho, a coalition of various health and education groups, said nearly 95 percent of all adult smokers start smoking before the age of 21. Raising the age limit is an effort to improve the health of Idaho citizens, as well as to reduce the estimated $500 million in annual health care costs associated with tobacco use.
“I think this would have a very positive effect on Idaho,” Martin said.
He introduced similar legislation last year, but the State Affairs Committee killed the bill on a 5-4 vote. More than a dozen people testified on both sides of the issue during an emotional, 90-minute public hearing.
Martin said he made two changes based on concerns raised by committee members last year.
First, he clarified that retail employees younger than age 21 could still stock cigarette and tobacco products without supervision. He also added language saying retailers will be penalized for selling tobacco products to underage buyers the same as if they sold them alcohol.
A roomful of supporters and opponents attended Wednesday’s meeting, though public comment isn’t taken during bill introduction hearings. State Affairs Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, told them the bill “will be back, depending on disposition of chairman, for a full vetting.”
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