A bill awaiting final legislative approval in the New Jersey Assembly would raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products and electronic cigarette devices from 19 to 21.
Sen. Dick Codey said it’s the right thing to do.
“Ten years ago, we raised it to 19, the age, and smoking by teenagers went down dramatically,” said Cody, D-Essex. “Now raising it to 21 will put it down even more.”
Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, D-Bergen, sponsored the legislation she believes can reduce the potential for devastating health effects from smoking.
“We’re trying to change the culture here of our youth, and we’re trying to adopt a smoke-free lifestyle policy here in the state of New Jersey,” she said.
Assemblyman Erik Peterson opposes the measure.
“I have a problem with telling people who can sign up for the military and go to Afghanistan and get blown up, can get married, who will be considered to be adults, that they’re not adult enough to make this decision,” said Peterson, R-Hunterdon.
And Mary Ellen Peppard with the New Jersey Food Council said the legislation would have a negative effect on retailers.
“Obviously, there’s a direct loss when you limit which consumers can purchase these products,” she said during a hearing on the measure. “It’s the ancillary sales — the coffee, the sandwich — that consumers tend to purchase when also going in for their tobacco or nicotine products.”
Hackensack resident James Erwin, who said many of his relatives and friends have died from smoking-related illnesses, said he believes banning tobacco product sales to anyone under 21 could prevent other deaths.
“It will save lives. It absolutely will,” he said. “And anyone who’s opposed to it for monetary issues, saying it would hurt businesses, should be ashamed of themselves if you’re going to put profits over people’s lives.”
Raising the tobacco purchase age could result in the loss of about $19 million a year in state revenue, but supporters say it would save far more than that in health-related costs.