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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A plan to bump Idaho's legal smoking age from 18 to 21 died Friday when it failed to win enough support among conservative lawmakers wary of curbing individual freedoms.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, would have applied to smoking, chewing tobacco and alternative nicotine products such as e-cigarettes.
It would have imposed a $17.50 fine on young people violating the law as some lawmakers pushed for Idaho to join California and Hawaii as the only states to ban smoking until age 21.
"I truly struggle with all the issues of personal freedom and personal privileges aspect on this," said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder of Boise. "People fight for the right of choice to abort children. What is choice? What is freedom? This one is a real struggle for me."
Similar debates are currently underway in statehouses across the country, including Arkansas, Nebraska and New York.
"We have a fine of $17.50? That's crap," said Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, before voting against the measure. "I would not expect a (school resource officer) in a school to take the time to write out a ticket for that amount."
Supporters of the Idaho bill said it aimed to deter adolescents from the harmful, sometimes fatal effects of nicotine addiction. The American Cancer Society reports that 95 percent of adult smokers began using tobacco before turning 21.
"A challenge on tobacco policy feels like an attack on our freedoms, but tobacco is the No. 1 provider of preventable deaths in our state," said Luke Cavener, Idaho director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
The Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday narrowly voted to defeat the bill after a two-hour hearing, where testimony at times got emotional while members shared stories of family members who had died from lung cancer.
Those arguments were countered by convenience store owners and the e-cigarette business community warning that young people would find new places to buy tobacco products — in other states or on Indian reservations — rather than be deterred.
Other opponents argued that the proposal would strip rights from young people who are considered responsible enough to vote, serve in the military and be charged as an adult with crimes.
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