DENVER & SALT LAKE CITY -- The movement to raise the legal purchasing age for tobacco products is picking up steam, with Colorado and Utah lawmakers becoming the latest to push such regulation.
Bills are pending in the legislatures of both states that would hike the legal buying age to 21. The proposals are rooted in research that indicates smokers pick up the habit as teenagers, according to The Associated Press.
"What I'm hoping to do is make it harder for kids to obtain cigarettes," said Rep. Cheri Gerou (R-25th District), sponsor of the Colorado measure.
Neither age increase is a done deal as both proposals face several more votes. However, according to the news outlet, this is the furthest that any state has gone to curb access to cigarettes by teens, to date.
The Altria Group Inc. said in a statement to the news agency late last week that it supports 18 as the minimum age to purchase tobacco, which Congress approved in 2009. The Richmond, Va.-based tobacco company, whose brands include Marlboro, Parliament and Virginia Slims, said states should wait until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finishes a pending study about raising the purchase age higher than 18.
"While we recognize that these are difficult issues, we believe Congress has established a thoughtful process for understanding the issue better, and we intend to engage in that process with FDA as it takes its course," Altria stated, adding that the company supports efforts to prevent underage use of tobacco.
Four states -- Utah, Alabama, Alaska and New Jersey -- currently require tobacco purchasers to be 19.
Lawmakers in Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey are also considering measures to increase the minimum age to 21. Maryland lawmakers considered and rejected the idea earlier this year. Last year, New York City and Hawaii County, Hawaii, enacted legislation boosting the age to 21.