Tobacco-buying age will rise to 19 after Assembly approval of measure
Despite an argument that 18-year-olds are mature enough to make their own decisions about smoking, the Assembly yesterday passed legislation that would raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 19.
Having already passed the Senate, the Assembly approval sends the measure to Gov. Richard Codey, who is ready to sign it. Codey, who also is Senate president, sponsored the bill when it moved through the upper house on Dec. 8.
Besides raising the purchase age by one year, the measure would set penalties for store clerks selling a tobacco product to a person under 19. The fines would range from $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second and $1,000 after that. Currently, only the owner of the store is liable.
Assemblyman Guy Gregg (R- Morris) did not agree that the buyer should escape penalty.
"There are relatively severe penalties for a person 18 to 21 who tries to buy liquor," he said on the Assembly floor. "How do you create consistency in that? ... It is inconsistent to set up a standard where only the seller is responsible. You are making a one-way law."
Gregg said if New Jerseyans are old enough at 18 to join the military and fight in the Middle East, they should be allowed to purchase tobacco in the state.
"Young folks are very responsible folks," he said. "We would hope they do not smoke, but those that do should have that right of passage."
New Jersey would become the fourth state to set the age at 19 -- joining Alabama, Alaska and Utah.
"Teens who take up smoking are playing a game of Russian roulette with their health," said Assemblyman John F. McKeon (D- Essex), a prime sponsor. "With lung disease in younger people on the rise, there is an overriding public health interest to keep cigarettes out of the mouths of kids. We must send the message to our teens that smoking is not cool -- it merely puts them in the fast lane to a lifetime of health problems."
The American Lung Association reports that 90 percent of smokers took up the habit prior to their 18th birthday. Additionally, a survey conducted by the state Department of Health and Senior Services reported that one in three of the state's high school students smoke cigarettes.