Advocates for a measure to increase the tobacco purchase age to 21 say it will help curb health care costs. But opponents say by that logic, government should make underage possession of sugar a crime.


Surrounded by public health advocates, Democratic Senator John Mulroe introduced Senate Bill 3011 to increase the age adults can purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. Mulroe said it will help curb youth smoking and, in turn, will cut down on tobacco-related health costs to the state’s Medicaid system.

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“Medicaid dollars that go toward healthcare costs related to smoking are nearly $2 billion,” Mulroe said.


Anthony Fisher, a writer for the libertarian Reason Foundation, says that’s a fair point, but why stop with tobacco?


“Let’s make it so that nobody under 21 can purchase sugar, and that will make it harder for people to develop the sugar habit or make it harder for them to develop diabetes,” Fisher said. “Let’s just never stop.”


At the same time, Fisher says, 18-year-olds are adults and should be able to make the choice whether to purchase tobacco.


Mulroe said the measure is an effort to reduce smoking by young people “and to try my best to keep this harmful product out of the hands of people.”


Fisher said if 18-year-olds can vote, be charged for adult crimes and even join the military to serve the country and possibly die for it, they should be able to make the choice whether to purchase tobacco.


“We’d actually be a freer and more tolerant society if we allowed people to make those choices and not turn everything into a potential crime under civil and criminal codes,” Fisher said.


Fisher said he doesn’t smoke and doesn’t encourage anyone to, but said it’s a personal liberty choice and the government should stay out.


Mulroe’s legislation would cover the purchase of all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes. It would also bar anyone under 21 from possessing tobacco products.


The legislation filed Thursday has been referred to the assignments committee. If passed, the measure would provide penalties for retailers that sell tobacco to anyone younger than 21 and make it a petty offense for anyone under 21 to be in possession of tobacco products.


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