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Idaho Senate moves to raise the state's smoking age

Sign that says "no smoking no vaping" with graphics showing a cigarette and vape with the "no" symbol over them.
Flickr Creative Commons, Mike Mozart

Idaho senators narrowly passed a bill Tuesday to raise the minimum age needed to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Idaho’s minimum age has remained 18, despite federal lawmakers raising the national age to 21 a few years ago.

Sen. Fred Martin (R-Boise) said this bill will save lives.

“Raising the minimum age of 21 is one of the most effective things government can do to reverse teen vaping,” Martin said.

A 2015 study by the National Academy of Medicine predicted tobacco use would drop by 12% if the minimum legal age to buy them was raised to 21. Subsequent reductions in cancer, heart disease and other conditions linked to tobacco use would also show up years down the line, according to the study.

Matching the federal smoking age, Martin said, would keep many kids from starting smoking in the first place, since 95% of people begin smoking before they turn 21.

“We have an opportunity to stop the flow of cigarettes from those in high school that are of age to those who are underage,” he said.

In Idaho, 21.5% of high school students reported using e-cigarettes compared to 11.3% nationally. Traditional cigarette use by high school students is also slightly higher than the national average at 5.3%

But many senators opposed raising the minimum smoking age, including Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise), who said tobacco companies are trying to shift the blame from them to individuals.

“Let’s fight big tobacco,” said Burgoyne. “Let’s not fight our kids.”

The bill was drafted by Altria, which owns mega-brands like Marlboro and Copenhagen. Altria also has a significant investment in the e-cigarette company JUUL Labs.

Other critics said those between the ages of 18 and 20 shouldn’t be treated as pseudo-adults, especially since they can vote or join the military.

The measure eventually passed 19-15 with one member absent.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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