BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The House Health and Welfare Committee approved a bill Wednesday, April 24 that would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 in Louisiana.
The bill, authored by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, seeks to crack down on retailers who sell to underage people through stricter reporting requirements. Another bill by a different author would raise the fees on retailers not in compliance with the law.
“This is a simple, but tremendously important concept,” said Hoffmann, a former smoker. “It’ll reduce deaths, make for better health, and save money in the long run.”
Lawmakers say the bill would help prevent teenagers from gaining access to nicotine products that can be extremely addictive during developmental years. Some experts say there’s a “vaping epidemic” among teens in Louisiana.
“We are in the early stages... of a new addiction crisis,” Tobacco21′s Shannon Quinby said. “Juul and other makers of e-cigarettes have re-glamorized teen smoking and addicted millions of kids to nicotine.”
The tobacco industry offered silent support for the bill, although some anti-smoking representatives suggested that was to publicly save face.
Some lawmakers questioned why young people should not be allowed to smoke if they can serve in the military and vote. Vape sellers told lawmakers they would have to lay off store employees who are between 18 and 21.
“An 18-year-old is not a child anymore, according to 99.9 percent of the law,” vape store owner, Jeff Weber said, before explaining he used a vaporizer to kick his addiction to cigarettes.
The state would lose out on about $5 million in revenue if the change is made, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
Committee members offered personal stories involving family members and nicotine addiction. Rep. Joseph Stagni, R-Kenner, said he recalled when the tobacco was allowed inside the state capitol.
“Times change and sometimes we have to make those changes,” he said. “Smoking has cold morbidity, and it’s costing our healthcare system and the public millions.”
The committee approved the bill 11-2. It now heads to the House floor for full debate.