LANSING, MICH. - A West Michigan lawmaker has introduced legislation that would raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.
The bill introduced this week by Rep. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming, would prohibit the sale of tobacco products and paraphernalia in Michigan to anyone under the age of 21. Only two other states have such bans in place.
“I think it will save lives,'' said Brann, 65, a former smoker. "It’s the right thing to do.’’
The Youth Tobacco Act sets a minimum fine of $1,000 for the first violation and $2,500 for a subsequent violation if it occurs within two years.
It’s not just cigarettes. The bill also covers chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes, cigars, pipes and hookahs. Tobacco cessation products such as nicotine gum would be exempt.
Hawaii last year became the first state to raise the smoking age to 21, followed by California. Similar measures are pending in at least 13 other states.
Cities are also joining the fold. At least 240 municipalities, including New York City, Chicago and Boston, have raised the tobacco age to 21, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Brann, who has been in the restaurant business for 46 years, said most people who begin smoking do so in their teen years. He sees it first-hand at his steakhouse on South Division Avenue in Wyoming.
"I see a lot of my bus boys making that mistake at 18, smoking,'' he said. “I want people to start at 21. If they’re going to start smoking, just like drinking, it should be 21.''
Ann Arbor last year banned the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21, but the ordinance was scuttled by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
In an opinion issued in February, Schuette said the city’s cigarette ordinance conflicts with a 1972 state law that set the age of majority at 18.
The Genesee County Board of Commissioners also raised the buying age to 21. It was set to begin last month, but has been put on hold because of a legal challenge.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, there are 480,000 tobacco-related deaths in the U.S. each year.
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