NEW ORLEANS (WWL-TV) — Joining similar pushes in the U.S. Senate, lawmakers in Louisiana will debate whether to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco and other nicotine products.
The Louisiana House Committee on Health and Welfare is set to discuss House Bill 38 Wednesday which would raise the minimum age to distribute, sell, purchase or possess tobacco products, vapor products or alternative nicotine products to 21 years old.
Most states, including Louisiana, have set a minimum age of 18, while a dozen have raised that to 21, according to the American Lung Association. Alaska and Alabama set their minimum ages at 19. Many cities and counties also have passed local laws establishing the minimum at 21.
The bill’s sponsor, Monroe Republican Frank Hoffman, is a former smoker and told The Advocate that the change is the right thing to do for Louisiana.
“A lot of statistics show that 18-year-olds are still physically maturing and if they don’t start (smoking) by the time they’re 21, then they will end up never smoking,” Hoffmann said.
Hoffman’s bill is similar to federal legislation proposed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell’s bill also seeks to raise the minimum age to 21 and covers all tobacco producing including vaping devices.
“I hope and I expect t
his legislation to achieve strong bipartisan support in the Senate,” McConnell said. “As you all know, I’m in a particularly good position to enact legislation. And this is going to be a top priority that I’ll be working on.”
Earlier this month, Rite Aid and Walgreens announced that it would raise its minimum age for tobacco sales to 21 years old. Rite Aid said its decision is based on research that shows 95 percent of adult smokers have their first cigarette before age 21.
Smoking, the nation’s leading cause of preventable disease, is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths each year.
Smoking-related illness costs to society exceed $300 billion each year including $170 billion in direct medical costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of 2017, about 34 million American adults smoked cigarettes, and every day about 2,000 youngsters under age 18 lit up their first cigarette, it said.
McConnell said he considers teen vaping to be the “most serious threat” his new legislation will seek to combat. Vaping is an electronic form of smoking.
“For some time, I’ve been hearing from the parents who are seeing an unprecedented spike in vaping among their teenage children,” McConnell said.
The CDC said earlier this year that the vaping boom is the most likely reason that cigarette smoking rates among U.S. high school and middle school students have flattened in the past three years, after declining fairly steadily for decades.
According to CDC data, about 8 percent of high schoolers said they had recently smoked cigarettes in 2018, and about 2 percent of middle schoolers did. Those findings were about the same seen in similar surveys in 2016 and 2017.
It also found that about two in five high school students who used a vaping or tobacco product used more than one kind and that the most common combination was e-cigarettes and cigarettes. Also, about 28 percent of high school e-cigarette users said they vaped 20 or more days in the previous month — nearly a 40 percent jump from the previous year.
The CDC findings came from a national survey conducted last spring of more than 20,000 middle and high school students. It asked if they had used any tobacco products in the previous month.