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Alaska Senate passes bill to raise smoking, vaping age from 19 to 21

The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would raise the legal age to buy and sell tobacco products from 19 to 21.
Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 6:07 PM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2022 at 12:25 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would raise the legal age to buy and sell tobacco products from 19 to 21. It would also impose a statewide tax on vaping.

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said the goal of Senate Bill 45 is to prevent and reduce youth smoking. The National Youth Tobacco Survey found an almost 80% rise in e-cigarette usage among high schoolers between 2017 and 2018.

“We must act now, Mr. President, to face this ruthless industry,” Stevens said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2018 that there is an “epidemic” of e-cigarette use among young people in the U.S. who often find the “kid-friendly” flavors appealing.

There would be some exceptions under this new bill: Alaskans who are 19 and older who currently sell tobacco products would be grandfathered into the new age limits. Tobacco cessation devices that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration would not incur the new tax rate for e-cigarettes.

Stevens said he agreed, in some ways, that vaping may have helped many adults quit smoking, but that the evidence shows that it can still be harmful.

“They do not, however, end addiction to nicotine,” he said. “Instead, they provide an attractive new delivery device to maintain the same old habit. This bill is an effort to push back on a multi-billion dollar industry that is trying to addict young people.”

SB 45 toughens up age-verification requirements for sellers of tobacco while cutting the fine on violations for underage smokers from a maximum of $500 to $300.

If the bill passes through the Alaska House of Representatives, e-cigarettes or vapes would be taxed at 45% of their wholesale price. The Senate passed SB 45 on a 15-4 vote. All four of the “no” votes were by Republicans.

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, opposed the bill and said 18 is the age a person is considered to be an adult in the U.S. in most instances, including for joining the military.

“You’re old enough to carry a gun, you’re old enough to die for your country, but you’re not old enough to drink? To smoke a cigarette if you want? To vape?” Shower asked. “That’s a hard choice for me to look at somebody in the eye and say you can’t be destructive to yourself.”

In 2019, former President Donald Trump signed a bill into law that raised the federal age to consume tobacco products to 21. Alaska is currently one of 12 states that have not made the same shift in state law.

SB 45 now heads to the House for its consideration. The legislative session must end by May 18.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the proposed tax rate on vaping would be 75% of the wholesale price, that was from an earlier version of the bill. The current proposed tax rate would be 45% of the wholesale price.

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