On March 25, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed House Bill 324, which will increase the legal age for obtaining, using, possessing and providing tobacco products from 19 to 21.
HB 324 does not increase the age requirement all at once, but in increments. First, it will start by with upping the legal age requirement from 19 to 20 at the start of 2020. Then, will finish the increase to 21 in 2021.
Utah’s current age requirement is 19, which is already different from most states.
The federal minimum age requirement for tobacco is 18, which has been adopted by most states. Alabama, Alaska and Utah are the only states in the country that currently uphold a tobacco purchasing age of 19.
With the passing of HB 324, Utah joins 13 other states and Washington D.C. with a minimum sales age of 21.
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, was the chief sponsor of this bill, with Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, was the leading Senate sponsor. Bramble was not willing to give any personal opinions or thoughts on HB 324, but did say he and others had “been working on a tobacco law for a few years now.”
Libertas Institute, a Utah libertarian advocacy group, has come out against this bill, stating on their website that it “violates our principles and should be opposed.”
“While this bill has good intentions, legislators should recognize that it does something that will have a far greater impact on an individual’s life than a cigarette will: it criminalizes yet another action for Utahns who are 19 and 20-years-old,” the post reads.
Their concern is primarily with an individual’s liberties and freedoms, adding, “HB 324 aims to take tobacco out of the hands of legal adults.”
Libertas Institute also points out that similar bills failed in 2018, 2016 and 2014.
Most of these new regulations are spawning as an effort to offset the huge recent increase in tobacco use by young people mostly due to the surge of e-cigarettes in the last few years.
According to a February 2019 Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4.9 million middle and high school students in 2018 used some type of tobacco product in the past 30 days, with 1.5 million more young people using e-cigarettes in 2018 than the previous year.
“The skyrocketing growth of young people’s e-cigarette use over the past year threatens to erase progress made in reducing youth tobacco use. It’s putting a new generation at risk for nicotine addiction,” CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield says in a release.
Some of the biggest effects of HB 324 will fall to retailers, who will soon be required to play a very important part when it comes to regulating and upholding the new changes in the age requirement.
“That’s stupid. So, for four months out of the next two years I won’t be able to buy smokes?” says Mariah Slater, a Taylorsville student.
Individuals whose age corresponds with the year won’t be able to purchase tobacco products until their birthday comes and goes, leaving various legal periods throughout the two years where vendors will have to pay close attention.
Local health departments may also have additional ordinances governing the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and various tobacco paraphernalia. It is important for retailers to understand these local ordinances in addition to the state and federal regulations.
Former student Lucas Brown “thinks the new law is good,” and he feels like “almost every young person he sees smokes now.”
Surprisingly, tobacco e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL has come out in favor of bill HB 324 and has recognized the trend of nicotine addiction in young people as being an issue.
Social media sites and YouTube may also have also a role in these increases by being a platform that fosters a variety of cloud, bubble and competitive vape challenges.
Though some younger adults will no longer be able to purchase or obtain vapes and tobacco products as easily, individuals who will take the worst hit include tobacco vendors like Alex (Alejandro) Garcia, who works at and helps run the 21st Smoke Shop in Sugar House.
When asked how he thinks the new law will affect the store and sales, Garcia says it will not have too much of an effect because he “already IDs everybody,” but adds he might “need to make sure younger people don’t just come in and wander around” as freely as they do now.
Though they sell several other products that are not directly affiliated with tobacco, the rules and guidelines on what age of people can be allowed to enter the store may also change.
Coincidentally, after the signing of HB 324 in Utah, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently introduced legislation that emulates Utah’s bill on a federal level. Seeking to curb teenage e-cigarette use — which the U.S. Surgeon General described as an “epidemic” — McConnell aims to raise the national minimum age for tobacco products from 18 to 21.