Oregon is now on pace to become the fourth state to ban tobacco and cigarettes sales to anyone under 21 after Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill Wednesday hiking the legal smoking age up from 18.
Stores in Oregon will be barred from selling tobacco products, including cigarettes and electronic vaping devices, to individuals 20 years old and younger beginning Jan. 1, putting the state in the same category as only California, Hawaii and New Jersey until Maine follows suit six months later.
The bill cleared the state Senate and House in March and July, respectively, and Ms. Brown, a Democrat, previously said she looked forward to signing it into law.
“I want to make sure that we continue to reduce the number of young people starting to smoke, but it’s also critical that we reduce the number of people smoking,” Ms. Brown said previously.
Advocates of the increase including the governor argue that raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 could significantly reduce the rate of addiction among Oregonians and subsequently lower their odds of suffering from related health repercussions.
Critics have said it’ll harm retailers, however, and one opponent, Democratic state Rep. Paul Evans, described the bill as “a tragic case of overreach” and “liberty theft,” The Oregonian previously reported.
About 95 percent of lifelong cigarette smokers begin the habit before turning 21, according to both the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Cancer Society. Roughly 7,000 people die each year in Oregon from cigarette-related illnesses, per the state’s health department, and Oregon spends more than $3 billion annually in taxpayer money treating tobacco-related illnesses, according to state Rep. Rich Vial, a Republican sponsor of the bill.
“If we can avoid addiction setting in at this younger age, we are less likely to see people start to become addicted to a substance that can have lifelong ill-effects on health,” Angie Gerard, director of Malheur County Health Department, told the Argus Observer.
California and Hawaii each raised the legal smoking age to 21 in 2016. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill last month bumping the Garden State’s smoking age effective Nov. 1, and Maine lawmakers moved last week to do the same starting in July.
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