Lawmaker aims to raise legal age to buy tobacco

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A state lawmaker is hoping to make Rhode Island the latest state to raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21.

More than 127 communities nationwide have already adopted the change so far, beginning with Needham, Mass.

Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-District 34, introduced the bill in Rhode Island because she believes it will save lives.

“I think the key piece to this is that changing it to 21 takes tobacco entirely out of high schools” she noted. “It removes the social source for most kids who begin smoking by having a friend who is a little bit older or looks a little bit older who is able to purchase tobacco.”

According to the Institute of Medicine, 2,500 teenagers smoke for the first time each day. Increasing the age to 21 was regarded as a top solution in efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths after a decade of research by the Institute.

Tanzi, who expects backlash from those who sell tobacco products, says the health benefit and savings far outweigh any sales impacts.

“I want to remind folks that it is one item in their convenience store,” she said. “And that people who are between the ages of 18 and 21 constitute 2 to 4 percent of all of those tobacco sales.”

One addition to the bill since it was originally presented last year is the inclusion of electronic nicotine delivery devices, or e-cigarettes.

The next step for the legislation is a hearing with the House Finance Committee.

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