Rhode Island - bill before state senate to raise age to purchase tobacco products to 21..

April 7, 2010 - A bill currently being considered in the Rhode Island Senate proposes to raise the purchase age for tobacco products to 21, from the current legal age of 18. The bill, introduced in January by Senators Rhoda Perry P’91, D-Providence, and V. Susan Sosnowski, D–New Shoreham and South Kingston, replaces each mention of age 18 in the current law with the proposed age of 21 and changes nothing else.

Current Rhode Island law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from purchasing tobacco products and outlaws the selling or delivery of tobacco to minors.

Perry said that this bill is based on the public health benefits of restricting tobacco use during a time when many young people form lifelong habits. She said the bill is not an attempt to force her beliefs on others.

Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that while smoking is unhealthy, this bill does not make sense given the other legal rights afforded to 18-year-olds. “Eighteen is the age of majority,” Brown said. “An 18-year-old is legally an adult and can marry, enter into contracts and serve in the military, so he or she should be able to smoke cigarettes.” Brown added that this bill is an attempt to protect individuals who he believes are old enough to be making decisions on their own. “It is a discrimination against young adults solely on the basis of their age,” Brown said. “It’s a protective measure that refuses to recognize that 18-year-olds are adults and should generally be treated as such.”

Despite Perry’s claim that research validates the bill, she does not believe it will pass this year. She predicted that the influence of special interests and political pressure to avoid measures that might further depress Rhode Island’s struggling economy would prevent the bill from passing in the near future.

Both Brown and Perry noted that smoking is harmful, but each had a different approach to how it should be handled from a legal perspective. “Smoking is a stupid thing to do, but it’s stupid at any age,” Brown said.

Perry said that while consumption of alcohol in moderate amounts can have social benefits — and even potential health benefits — a cigarette represents “an ill wind that blows no good.”

She said that raising the age at which an individual can obtain tobacco would simply be one of the most effective ways to discourage young people from smoking. “These days we’re looking at what researchers say works, which is keeping young people from starting cigarette smoking,” Perry said. “Studies have revealed that the longer a young person is kept from smoking, the less likely he or she is to start.”

Dr. Judith Mackay - a World Health Organization senior policy adviser has recently stated, "If you can get kids by the age of 19, they don't start smoking hardly after that." (In May 2007, Time Magazine named Judith Mackay, M.D. one of the "most influential people in the world" in recognition of her role as a leading campaigner for stricter tobacco control measures and vigilant critic of tobacco industry practices. Dr Judith Mackay named one of the "most influential people in the world

Reference: Bill would raise tobacco age to 21 by Mark Raymond, Staff Writer, The Brown Daily Herald, 4/6/2010.

Rhode Island - some related news briefs:
U.S. - states cracking down on cigarette smuggling..;
Rhode Island - c-store, another case of selling cigarettes that lack state tax stamp..;
Rhode Island retailers finding ways to avoid paying tobacco tax..;
Rhode Island state cigarette tax highest in nation - $3.46/pack..;
Besides federal tax increase - several states want to do the same..;