Despite one lawmaker’s protests that if age 18 is old enough to go to war, it’s old enough to smoke, a House committee gave preliminary approval Thursday to a measure that would raise the legal smoking age in Arizona to 21.
Republican Rep. Paul Boyer of Phoenix, who sponsored HB2335, told the House Health Committee that 90 percent of adult smokers started before they were 21 – and by increasing the age limit, lawmakers would decrease the number of lifelong smokers.
And Boyer argued the bill would make harder for 18-year-old high school seniors to buy cigarettes for their younger friends.
But Republican Rep. Jay Lawrence of Scottsdale, a U.S. Air Force veteran who voted against the measure, questioned whether it would also apply to members of the military.
“So this individual about to be shipped to Syria, about to be shipped to Afghanistan and buying cigarettes for the trip, even though he’s going into combat, perhaps, would not be able to buy cigarettes?” Lawrence asked.
Boyer responded that the bill would raise the smoking age for everyone, but added that the military itself also considered increasing the minimum smoking age.
Nicole Olmstead, lobbyist for the American Heart Association, added that during basic combat training, soldiers are not allowed to use tobacco products.
And she noted that those who start smoking early tend to remain smokers throughout their lives
“A youth’s brain is like a sponge. Typically it’s referred to someone’s learning ability; they soak everything up. But that isn’t just about learning. It is also about nicotine. Kids who experiment early with nicotine…they tend to become more seriously addicted for longer terms,” Olmstead said.
Lawrence said he wasn’t endorsing smoking, but as a limited-government conservative, he thinks adults should be able to make the decision of whether to smoke, and not have it made for them by government.
“I don’t think smoking is good. I don’t smoke. However, I want everyone to think nanny-state is bad, that these kinds of regulations are just a part of the slippery slope to more and more regulations, more government intervention in the lives of people,” he said.
Students from the Yavapai Anti-Tobacco Coalition of Youth, which brought the idea of raising the smoking age to Boyer, also spoke up in support of the bill.
Gunner Tillemans, president of the coalition, spoke about how the group helped to pass an ordinance raising the smoking age to 21 in Cottonwood. Tillemans also replied to Lawrence’s concerns, though Lawrence had stepped out to go to the veterans’ caucus.
“The minimum age of military service does not equal the readiness to enlist in a lifetime of smoking,” Tillemans said, adding that the military is taking steps to ban sale of all tobacco products on base.
Kyle Sawyer, a legislative liaison with Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), noted that changing the legal smoking age would cost the state an estimated $5.5 million per year due to a reduction in tobacco tax revenue.
But Boyer countered saying that AHCCCS spends $382 million dollars annually on tobacco-related illnesses. The long-term savings for AHCCCS far outweigh the short-term impacts if the smoking age is increased, he said.
The House Health Committee approved the measure by a 7-2 vote. It still needs a vote from the full House before heading to the Senate.