NJ May Raise Legal Age to Buy Cigarettes

Erin Delmore, NJTV News 

New Jersey is one step closer to raising the legal age to buy cigarettes and tobacco products from 19 to 21.

“I feel like 21 is a more appropriate age to buy cigarettes, because you are considered more of an adult around 21 than 18 or 19,” said Mustafa Lawrence, a student at Rutgers Newark.

“I think 19 is a pretty good age where you can decide for yourself whether it is good or bad for you.  21 seems a little restrictive,” said Jung Maing, another student at Rutgers Newark.

The State Senate passed it back in June 2014. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle sponsored the companion bill which passed its Assembly committee  this week.

“When you look at the money that is being spent on diseases caused by smoking and second hand smoke in the billions,” said Huttle “We can out weigh that by just preventing some of these diseases. Quite frankly, this could be , in the long run, not only a cost savings monetarily but  of course again, saving lives.”

The bill puts the onus on sellers, not buyers. A store owner who sells tobacco products to anyone under 21 would face fines up to $1,000 and risk their retail license.The purchaser? No penalty. Unless they’re using a fake ID, which is illegal on its own.

Some small business owners say it’s too much money out of their pockets..

“We are talking about small buisness owners. We are not talking about big corporations,” said New Jersey Gasoline C-Store and Automotive Association Executive Director Sal Risalvato.

Retailers say they lose money if the minimum age to purchase cigaretts moves up to 21. That is not just on the tobacco products that won’t be soled. They say its on things likes snakes and coffee and food that people get when they are checking out — totaling thousands.

But advocates of the bill say retailer’s concerns are outweighed by the health benefits.

“Ninety percent of all people who start smoking is before age 21. Studies have shown a decrease in smoking initiation in smoking by young people when age has increased,” said NJ GASP Executive Director Karen Blumenfeld.

With no penalty on underage smokers, critics wonder how effective the law would be.

“How are 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds get cigarettes now? When the law is already 19. If we could point to that age category not possessing and using tobacco. Then I would think okay we can say that it is a reasonable success. But, we cant,” Risalvato asked.

The State Assembly is aiming vote on the legislation this Monday, where it’s expected to pass, then move to the governor’s desk this week.