Bill raising New Jersey smoking age to 21 advances

The Associated Press, News Observer 


A bill to raise the New Jersey smoking age from 19 to 21 has once again advanced in the Democrat-led Legislature.

An Assembly committee approved the legislation Monday, a little more than a month after Republican Gov. Chris Christie declined to act on a similar bill.

The bill would fine retailers up to $1,000 if they sell to anyone 20 years old or younger, but it would not punish underage smokers.

"Most teens feel invincible at that age and can't fully comprehend the potential for addiction as well as the devastating long-term effects smoking can have on their health," said Democratic Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. "Raising the purchasing age would give them the chance to mature more before making this potentially life-altering decision."

New Jersey would be the second state behind Hawaii to raise the smoking age to 21.

Advocates hoped that New Jersey would be the tipping point for a policy that so far has taken hold in Hawaii and in cities including New York and Boston. Similar measures have been introduced in other states and the District of Columbia. Federal lawmakers have also proposed a nationwide smoking age of 21.

Since 2013, when New Jersey's smoking age bill was first introduced, tobacco companies have given nearly $600,000 to state lawmakers of both political parties, an increase of more than 50 percent over the previous three years, according to campaign finance records.