SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would toughen penalties on smoke shops if they're caught selling tobacco to underage Utahns was given initial approval Friday.
HB325 would impose greater fees on smoke shops on first and subsequent violations. On a fourth violation, the shop's license would be suspended for up to 90 days, rather than 30 days under current law.
"This bill gives more authority to our law enforcement officers dealing with this and gives them the ability to really address this growing problem," said Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, the bill's sponsor.
Spendlove cited data from the U.S. surgeon general that every day more than 1,200 people die due to smoking, and at least 4,000 young adults under 18 try their first cigarette.
"We all know the risks of smoking and what it does to our bodies, but among youth who persist in smoking, a third will die prematurely," he said. "The question is what do we do?"
Spendlove said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that "states strengthen their enforcement laws to prohibit the sale of tobacco to children."
"That's the purpose of this bill," he said.
For a smoke shop's first violation, the bill would expand the penalty fee from no more than $300 to between $300 and $750. The second violation fine would be upped from a maximum of $750 to between $750 and $1,000. A third violation would be a minimum of $1,000 and as high as $1,500.
"We've got to be aggressive on this. We've got to be doing more to stop this and protect these children," Spendlove said. "This is a step in that direction."
Following little debate, the bill passed unanimously in the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.