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Bill raising the age to buy tobacco products awaits fate after passing legislature

The bill would raise the legal age to buy and sell tobacco products from 19 to 21, plus a 35% statewide tax on e-cigarettes.
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 6:14 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Senate Bill 45 is one signature away from becoming law after passing during the latest legislative session in Juneau.

The bill would raise the legal age to buy and sell tobacco products from 19 to 21, plus a 35% statewide tax on e-cigarettes.

“The concern is tobacco consumption and the impact it has on lives and the concern that the earlier that kids start smoking tobacco either through cigarettes or through e-cigs,” Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said. “The earlier they start the more likely they are going to be addicted to nicotine.”

Stevens and Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, sponsored the bill. Alaska is currently one of 13 states that have not adopted the federal law from 2019 raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 19 to 21.

“It was designed for us to comply with a federal law called T or Tobacco 21,” Josephson said. “Which required a mandatory prohibition on the sale or purchase of tobacco before age 21.”

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, was one of four members in the Senate who opposed the bill when it was voted on in April.

“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 during the legislative session in April. “That’s a hard choice for me to look at somebody in the eye and say you can’t be destructive to yourself.”

On Wednesday, Shower said he hopes the governor vetoes the bill, and still opposes it. A spokesperson from Governor Dunleavy’s office says the bill has not made it to their office, and the governor will review it when it reaches his desk.

“I’m confident this will turn into law,” Josephson said. “I think the governor will see the wisdom in it”

Stevens wasn’t quite as confident when asked if he thought the governor would sign the bill, but felt he did what was right.

“I really don’t know, at one point the governor told us if it (tax) was higher than 25% he would veto it,” Stevens said. “But you know we are a separate form of government, and we should do what we think is best, and so we wound up at 35% through the house process.”

The fate of the bill will be determined by the governor as lawmakers wait to see if he’ll sign the bill into law, veto it, or ignore it — letting it become law.

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