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Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, testifying before the Senate Health Committee on his bill which would increase education and participation in organ donation programs in New Jersey.

New Jersey would become second state to put limit at 21

TRENTON — Legislation sponsored by Senator Richard J. Codey and Senator Joseph F. Vitale raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products and electronic smoking devices from 19 to 21 years of age was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today.

“It is unquestionable that tobacco is a killer, and as each day passes, more young people are becoming addicted. We can’t justify doing nothing while smoking-related illnesses and preventable deaths continue to soar,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex, Morris). “We can be leaders in tobacco prevention by raising the minimum smoking age to 21. It will save lives and New Jersey taxpayers billions of dollars.”

The annual health care costs in New Jersey directly caused by smoking are $4 billion, according to statistics reported on the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids website. Of that figure, an estimated $1 billion is covered by the state Medicaid program. The amounts do not include health costs caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, smoking-caused fires, smokeless tobacco use, or cigar and pipe smoking.

The senators noted that tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 480,000 people each year, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal government estimates that 700 children under the age of 18 become regular smokers each day, and almost one-third will die from it. Additionally, studies have shown that the ages of 18 to 21 are a critical period when many smokers move from experimental smoking to regular, daily use.

“The best way to prevent our youth from becoming lifetime smokers, and suffering the long-term and ultimately lethal effects of smoking, is to make it harder for them to buy cigarettes,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex), chair of the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “Raising the age to purchase and legally smoke in New Jersey will prevent teenagers from picking up the habit at a young age and have a positive lifelong impact on their health.”

In New Jersey, 11,800 adults die each year from their own smoking. Reports show that about 143,000 children now under 18 and alive in New Jersey will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.

New Jersey would be the second state, after Hawaii, to adopt legislation restricting access to nicotine and tobacco before age 21. In October 2013, New York City enacted an ordinance prohibiting retailers in New York City from selling cigarettes, tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to anyone under the age of 21. The ordinance took effect in May 2014.

The minimum age to purchase tobacco products in all but four states is 18. The minimum age is 19 in New Jersey, Alabama, Alaska, Utah, and the District of Columbia.  New Jersey increased the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 19 in 2006. Some localities in the United States have imposed minimum ages in excess of 19, including 16 towns in New Jersey which have raised the age to 21.

The bill, S-359, cleared the Senate Health Committee by a vote of 5-2 and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.