Delaware legislators are one step closer to raising the smoking age to 21 with the state Senate’s 14-6 passage of the measure Tuesday.
The bill sponsored by state Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, has strong support from other legislators and health officials.
Proponents say it will save lives by encouraging young people to stay away from cancer- causing tobacco. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 95 percent of smokers began using cigarettes before age 21.
The legislation also prohibits the sale of tobacco substitutes, such as e-cigarettes, to those under 21. As marketing campaigns for these products target preteens and teens, public health officials say, usage has become epidemic.
“Everyone knows the costs of smoking: lung disease, cancer, higher insurance costs, and worst of all, a shorter life,” Townsend said.
“But not everyone is aware that after years of convincing more and more young people to never pick up the habit, tobacco products are now pushing their way back into our schools, reaching children as young as 12 with e-cigarette flavors like bubblegum and cotton candy,” he added. “We need to explore every option we have to fight back against this trend and keep our kids healthy and smoke-free. Today’s vote is a great start.”
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disability in Delaware — and the United States — claiming 1,400 lives per year in the First State. Treatment of tobacco-related illnesses costs Delaware $532 million annually, according to state officials.
More than 425 cities and seven states have raised the smoking distribution age to 21.
Some opposition: At 18, ‘the age of majority’
Not everyone supports the bill, however. From the Senate floor Tuesday, state Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, said while he appreciates the efforts to reduce health risks, the bill is hypocritical.
At 18, he said, “you can vote. You’ll be prosecuted as an adult if you commit a crime. You can sign and be held accountable for legally binding contracts. And you are by law in the state of Delaware the age of majority.”
“I don’t want anybody to smoke and don’t want young people to smoke,” he added. “But if you’re 18 years old, I think you have the maturity to make that decision yourself.”
The bill now goes to the House for a vote. If passed, Gov. John Carney is expected to sign the legislation into law, and it would become effective 90 days later.
“Preventing smoking is the best thing we can do to improve the health of our state and reduce the growth of health care costs over time,” Carney said after the bill passed.
“We expect this legislation will help curb the impact of smoking on Delaware families by preventing more young Delawareans from picking up this dangerous habit in the first place,” he added.