Pa. Bill Would Raise Minimum Age for Tobacco Purchase to 21

But its sponsor, Vanessa Lowery Brown, goes on trial on bribery charges later this year. Hawaii recently raised the smoking age to 21.

If you’re a tobacco user in Pennsylvania between the ages of 18 to 20, here’s some advice: Smoke ’em while you got ’em.

State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown yesterday introduced House Bill 1628, which would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21. Currently, the age is 18.

“Studies show that the vast majority of those who smoke daily began before the age of 19,” Brown said in a statement. “Restricting access to tobacco products until age 21 should lower the smoking rate in the commonwealth.” Brown represents the 190th legislative district in Pennsylvania, which includes sections of Powelton, Mantua, Parkside, Mill Creek, Fairmount Park and other parts of West Philadelphia.

Earlier this year, Hawaii became the first state to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchases to 21. When Hawaii’s law goes into effect on January 1st, stores in Hawaii selling tobacco to people 20 or younger will be subject to a $500 fine for a first offense. Penalties rise for subsequent violations. Those under 21 caught with tobacco products will be subject to a $10 fine for a first offense, and a $50 fine for subsequent offenses. Electronic cigarettes and vape pens were included in Hawaii’s law.

Closer to Pennsylvania, New York City restricts tobacco purchases to those 21 and over. New Jersey has also pushed for such a hike in the smoking age to 21. In Jersey, one must be 19 to buy tobacco products. Alabama, Alaska and Utah also have a minimum smoking age of 19.

Of course, Brown’s law has much less of a chance of passing than the one in Hawaii. For one, Hawaii is a chain of islands. (Here’s hoping you knew this.) That means there’s no issue with border bleed, where people buy products that are illegal or more expensive in one state just across the border in another. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, borders multiple states that have laws allowing the purchase and use of tobacco products at the age of 18 (or 19). Convenience store owners and chains — as well as smoke shops — were not happy with the law in Hawaii eliminating a chunk of their customer base, but they didn’t have the border bleed issue to use in a fight against it.

But there’s another reason this bill could be held back: Brown is set to go on trial in December on charges she accepted $4,000 from an undercover informant in a sting operation. She previously planned to plead guilty, but changed her mind earlier this year and decided to go to trial. Several other democratic lawmakers have already pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the infamous “abandoned sting” operation.

The text of the bill, which was introduced yesterday and first announced in July, was not yet available. A smoking age of 21 is thought to not only prevent those from 18 to 20 years old from smoking, but prevent that age group from buying cigarettes for younger teenagers as well. Research generally shows that steps taken to delay the initiation into smoking makes it less likely people will ever pick up the habit.

“The age to purchase alcohol is 21,” Brown said in her release about the bill. “Tobacco has more long-term effects than alcohol in many people, so limiting the availability of tobacco should improve the health of our young adults. Reducing the number of smokers would provide many health benefits, such as reduced exposure to second-hand smoke for everyone; better fetal and neonatal health for our smallest people, and lower rates of diseases known to be related to smoking, such as heart disease, emphysema and cancer.”

Brown’s bill will be assigned to a committee. Earlier this year, she was a co-sponsor on HB 954, a bill targeting the selling of vaping products to minors. She has sponsored a variety of tobacco control bills during her four terms in the house.

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