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National News

February 21, 2014

Colorado, Utah move to hike smoking age to 21

DENVER — Two Western states with some of the nation's lowest smoking rates are considering cracking down even more by raising the tobacco age to 21.

Utah and Colorado lawmakers both voted favorably on proposals Thursday to treat tobacco like alcohol and take it away from 18- to 20-year-olds, a move inspired by new research on how many smokers start the habit as teenagers.

"By raising the age limit, it puts them in a situation where they're not going to pick it up until a much later age," said Marla Brannum of Lehi, Utah, who testified in favor of the idea there.

In Colorado, the testimony was similar — that pushing the tobacco age could make it harder for teens to access tobacco, and possibly reduce usage rates among adults.

"What I'm hoping to do is make it harder for kids to obtain cigarettes," said Rep. Cheri Gerou, a Republican who sponsored the measure. Both proposals face several more votes.

But they're the furthest any states have gone to curb access to cigarettes by teens.

The director of tobacco studies at University College London didn't know of any other countries considering a tobacco age threshold of 21, but he said raising the tobacco age from 16 to 18 in the United Kingdom proved to be "a public health winner."

A paper published last year in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine said that 9 out of 10 daily smokers in the U.S. have their first cigarette by 18 years of age, and that about 90 percent of cigarettes purchased for minors are obtained by people between 18 and 20 years old.

The Washington-based Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids advocates the higher smoking age and argues that it could make a serious dent in tobacco deaths down the road.

"We see this as sort of an added step to reducing smoking rates," in addition to higher tobacco taxes and other curbs, said Campaign vice president Peter Fisher.

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