A House committee easily approved legislation Wednesday to raise the age to smoke and vape from 18 to 21.
But despite the bill’s widespread support, not everyone who testified likes every provision.
The bill imposes penalties on retailers who sell smoking or vaping products to anyone under 21. But it eliminates existing fines for anyone underage from possessing those products.
Grocery and convenience store lobbyist Joe Lackey says that doesn’t make sense.
“It’s like saying somebody has cocaine, it’s legal to have the cocaine but it’s illegal to sell it,” Lackey says.
But American Heart Association lobbyist Danielle Patterson says there’s little evidence fining kids for underage smoking helps treat their addiction.
“In fact, there’s published evidence that shows penalties on underage tobacco users can make tobacco products more appealing to children,” Patterson says.
The penalties for retailers who sell smoking or vaping products to minors are significantly toughened by the bill. For instance, current law says a retailer who commits three such infractions within six months faces a $700 fine. The legislation says three infractions at any time within three years means a $1,000 fine and a 30-day retail license suspension.
Brad Baughn lobbies for convenience stores. He says the penalty structure is too punitive.
“Given the amount of turnover within our industry, it is possible – despite the best efforts of the company to hire and train good employees – that you would have three different employees over a three-year period make an unlawful sale," Baughn says.
Parvonay Stover works for Attorney General Curtis Hill, who likes the increased penalties.
“We hope that this’ll make them extra diligent in checking those IDs and making that we’re not selling those products to kids,” Stover says.
The bill now heads to the House floor.