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Utah on Track to Raising Smoking Age to 21

 Already with the highest smoking age, Utah lawmakers aim to make it harder for teens to buy tobacco.

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By Bryan Le

11/27/13

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Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. If the state legislature has its way, Utah could soon raise its minimum smoking age from 19 to 21 years old in hopes of cutting down on underage smoking in the state.

Lawmakers recently voted 14 to 5 in favor of advancing the measure through committee, setting up a possible vote in the legislature next year. Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, one of the five voting against the measure, claimed such a ban would restrict personal liberty. "We have a responsibility to protect first and foremost the liberties of our citizens, not to protect them from harm that they may cause to themselves," said Greene. Despite opposition, there was overwhelming support for the bill, including from anti-smoking groups and local health departments who testified before the committee. "Ninety percent of legal adults that purchase tobacco for underage smokers are under age 21," said David Patton, executive director of the Utah Department of Health.  Also according to health officials, most kid smokers under 18 in the state get their supply of smokes from people who are just above the current legal limit of 19. The law's proposers reason that underage smokers will have a harder time finding a 21-year-old friend willing to buy them cigarettes than a 19-year-old one. And in a state where the average resident tries his or her first cigarette at a little over 12 years old, blocking this means of obtaining smokes is critical.

Nationally, two-thirds of American smokers began smoking at age 18 or younger, according to the American Lung Association, so such policies could very well reduce the amount of future smokers over all. The town of Needham, MA raised their minimum smoking age to 21 in 2005 and saw high-school smoking rates drop by 50 percent since. Similar measures to the one moving through Utah are being considered in Hawaii, Texas, Colorado, and New Jersey.

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