Bill would raise age for tobacco, vaping products

A bill that would raise the legal age from 18 to 21 to purchase cigarettes, cigars, vapor products, alternative nicotine products and smokeless tobacco was heard Feb. 13 by the General Affairs Committee.

Sen. Merv Riepe

Ralston Sen. Merv Riepe, introducer of LB73, said that 90 percent of adult smokers start smoking before they turn 21. Delaying the age when young people first experiment can reduce the risk that they transition to regular tobacco use, he said, and raising the legal age likely would make both direct purchase and social acquisition more difficult for teens.

“Raising the drinking age to 21 is a prime example of the deterring effect raising the minimum age can have,” he said.

Linda Stones, representing the Nebraska Nurses Association, testified in support of the bill. She said the overwhelming majority of patients with pulmonary disease deeply regret their choice to have begun smoking. Reducing access to tobacco products is one way to address the $96 billion in annual health care costs associated with smoking, she said.

“Americans’ dependency on tobacco comes with a high price tag,” Stones said.

Amanda Kis of the American Lung Association also supported the bill, saying the makers of vaping products specifically target young people with flavors like vanilla cupcake, maple pancake, cinnamon crunch and apple pie.

“Are those lollipops, desserts, ice cream? Those are e-cigarette flavors,” Kis said.

Sarah Linden, owner of Generation V E-Cigarettes and Vape Bar, testified in opposition. Vapor products should not be lumped together with smoking, she said, citing research that indicates vaping is 97 percent safer than cigarettes. In addition, she said, vapor products have helped more than 9 million Americans quit smoking.

Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association also opposed the bill, saying it would criminalize current smokers who could be saddled with a misdemeanor on their record for life.

“Existing 18-, 19- and 20-year-old smokers will become criminals under this bill,” he said. “There is no grandfathering in.”

The committee took no immediate action on LB73.

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