Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
TRENTON — Tobacco and electronic vaping product retailers in New Jersey would be prohibited from selling to young adults under the age of 21 instead of age 19, under a bill a state Assembly panel approved Thursday.
Vendors who sell to young adults under 21 would pay $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses, according to the bill.
Representatives from the New Jersey Food Council and the American Vaping Association urged the Assembly Health and Senior Citizens Committee to vote against, or at least amend what is called the "Tobacco 21" bill.
The loss of "ancillary sales" — the coffee or sandwich consumers often buy when they are picking up a pack of cigarettes or vaping cartridges — will hurt retailers who already survive on small profit margins, Mary Ellen Peppard, the N.J. Food Council's lobbyist said.
Peppard also pointed out the state would lose $19 million in tax revenue in the first year the law is on the books, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services.
Keeping e-cigarettes away from people under 21 eliminates an opportunity for young adults to use the water-vapor devices to quit smoking and prevent tobacco addiction, Greg Conley of the vaping association testified.
"You are going to be denying 19 and 20-year-olds harm-reduction products," Conley said. "Under this bill, they will be forced to go to their friends above the legal age to get these products. This will not keep tobacco products out of the hands of youth."
Outnumbering the opponents, the bill's supporters came armed with statistics from the National Institutes of Health and other authorities that say 90 percent of tobacco users begin before they turn 21.
Many local communities across the state — including 14 this month — have adopted ordinances raising the age of tobacco sales from 19 to 21, said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), one of the bill's sponsors.
"This will change the culture of our youth and create a lifestyle that is healthier and smoke-free," Huttle said. "This will save lives."
Peppard asked the committee to amend the bill to say that all the local ordinances would be superseded by the state law, but no one responded to the request.
In Englewood — the first municipality in the state to raise the age from 19 to 21 nearly two years ago — "We never received any letter of complaint," said Lisa Wisotsky, vice-chairwoman for the local Board of Health.
"No retail establishments went out of business. No one has complained they have lost revenue since it passed," Wisotsky said. Six business owners have been fined for selling to minors, she added.
The bill passed by an 11-1 vote. Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Hunterdon) voted no because he said couldn't tell members of the military under the age of 21 "who are willing to get blown up" that "they are not adult enough to make this decision."
The bill has passed the Senate. It moves to the full Assembly for a final vote, before it goes to Gov. Chris Christie's desk.
"We know tobacco use increases the risk for chronic lung disease, heart disease, stroke and cancer and is one of the leading preventable causes of death and disease in New Jersey," said Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, (R-Monmouth), also a bill sponsor. "Increasing the purchase age can help stop, or at least delay, young people from developing a habit that can ultimately kill them."