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SALT LAKE CITY — With a lot of support for raising the age for tobacco products to 21, HB324 passed out of Senate Business and Labor Committee unanimously and will now go to the Senate floor.
"I’ve run this bill for three years now and it’s the first year that I’ve made it out of the House, and I think it’s the first time that I’ve had more co-sponsors than votes needed to move out of the House," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy.
Eliason said the bill has received support from many groups, including tobacco and vaping companies. One thing both sides agreed on was raising the age to 21, he said, which is the main purpose of the bill. The bill also addresses e-cigarettes and raises the age to use those devices as well.
Most of the concerns voiced were around pre-emption of local laws trying to further restrict tobacco sales.
Dave Davis, president of the Utah Retail Merchants Association, said they agree with the change in age to 21, but they do not support the current bill and asked to have stronger language put back in so the law would be consistent across the state.
"We did a deal, we felt like the deal was pre-emptive language so that we have this consistent rule (then) we’ll support 'tobacco 21' across the state," Davis said.
Lehi, along with Cedar Hills, passed ordinances earlier this year raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21. Eliason said some pre-emption is important to bring consistency throughout the state. He said the bill as it is currently written would superseded their laws. This means cities would have the gradual increase to 21, which is in HB324, rather than the immediate increase found in Lehi and Cedar Hills ordinances.
Lehi Mayor Mark Johnson said at the committee meeting Thursday he believes the ordinance in Lehi doesn't contradict the state law or this version of the bill. He said he supports the bill and that the focus should be on the core problem, keeping tobacco or tobacco-related products away from minors.
"We know some of the minors right now do not understand the dangers in (e-cigarettes), they simply think this is a healthy alternative to tobacco, and that’s just simply not true," Johnson said.
He said other cities have reached out to him about changing the age to 21, but he said they don't have interest in creating their own laws if HB324 passes.
Provo City Council passed a resolution Tuesday in support of the bill, saying if it does not pass, it will consider adopting its own ordinance.
In a statement, the council said it "believes strongly that this proposal will be a benefit to our state and to our youth and will be a proposal that may have a beneficial ripple effect for future generations."
DeAnn Kettenring, representing the Utah PTA, said she helped with the efforts in Lehi to make the change and pre-emption would have stopped grassroots efforts that can help state laws change.
"I’m grateful that Lehi had the opportunity to do this, because this is the first time this bill has gotten out of the House, out of committee," Kettenring said.
She would support laws in any city banning tobacco products, saying any smoker she knows over the age of 25 or 30 wants to quit but can't.
"I have a child that’s addicted to tobacco, I have personal experience, I hate this stuff," Kettenring said.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said he supports what was done in Lehi but he also needs to consider the entire state and a "patchwork quilt" from different laws in every city is a problem for businesses and regulation.