Bill to raise minimum smoking age now law

TRENTON, NJ — Legislation sponsored by state senators Richard J. Codey and Joseph F. Vitale raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products and electronic smoking devices from 19 to 21 years of age in New Jersey was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie on July 21.

“The governor and I have finally found an issue that we agree on — helping to save lives,” Codey, who represents parts of Essex and Morris counties, said in a press release. “Every day, more of our youth become addicted and we simply can’t allow it to continue. This law will help prevent the deadly consequences of smoking at the same time it will save taxpayers billions of dollars in health care costs.”

The annual health care costs in New Jersey directly caused by smoking are $4 billion, according to statistics reported on the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids website. Of that figure, an estimated $1 billion is covered by the state Medicaid program. The amounts do not include health costs caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, smoking-caused fires, smokeless tobacco use, or cigar and pipe smoking. In New Jersey, it is also estimated that 5,400 children become new daily smokers each year. Additionally, according to the New Jersey Department of Health, 14.3 percent of youth aged 12 to 18 years smoke in New Jersey.

“Data surveys show that if individuals aren’t smokers by 21 years of age, they will most likely not start later in their lives,” Vitale, who represents parts of Middlesex County and is the chairman of the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, said. “Making it harder to buy cigarettes by raising the age to legally purchase them in New Jersey will help prevent our youth from becoming lifelong smokers and suffering the long-term effects of the habit.”

The senators noted that tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 480,000 people each year, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal government estimates that 700 children younger than 18 become regular smokers each day, and almost one-third will die from it. Additionally, studies have shown that the ages of 18 to 21 are a critical period when many smokers move from experimental smoking to regular, daily use.

In New Jersey, 11,800 adults die each year from their own smoking. Also, 12.1 million packs of cigarettes are either bought or smoked by children each year, according to the release.

New Jersey would be the third state, after Hawaii and California, to adopt a law restricting access to nicotine and tobacco before age 21. The law, S-359, was approved by the Senate with a vote of 23-14 in May and approved by the Assembly in June.