New Bill in Tennessee General Assembly Could Raise Age Needed to Buy Tobacco Products

Chris Butler – The Tennessee Star

FROM: The Tennessee Star

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — No one in Tennessee between the ages of 18 to 20 could buy tobacco or vaping products if a bill currently in the Tennessee General Assembly is enacted into law.

Members of the state Senate Commerce Committee are scheduled to hear the bill Tuesday at 1 p.m.

State Sen. Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) and State Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, are sponsoring the bill.

Flanked by members of the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, Reeves and Ramsey held a press conference at the Cordell Hull State Office Building in Nashville Monday to announce their initiative.

“We are very healthy financially. But as healthy as we are financially we are equally unhealthy physically as a state,” Reeves said, quoting statistics that say, for instance, Tennessee ranks 42nd in heart disease and 46th in lung cancer.

“All of these things are made worse by smoking, which we are currently 47 out of 50 states in smoking.”

The bill, if passed into law, would not penalize people under 21 for buying tobacco. But the bill would strengthen penalties for anyone caught selling tobacco or vaping products to minors, according to a press release members of the AHA distributed to the press Monday.

Tennessee shares borders with eight different states.

The Tennessee Star asked legislators what the laws are regarding tobacco products in those eight surrounding states.

Reeves said Alabama is the only one of those states that has increased the age to buy tobacco to 21.

“But I tend to think we need to focus on our own state and our own kids and try to help them out,” Reeves said.

The Star then asked what would keep an 18-year-old Tennessean from traveling across state lines, likely only a short distance, to buy tobacco products.

State Sen. Rosalind Kurita (I-Clarksville), sponsoring legislation similar to Reeves’ and Ramsey’s, took to the podium and said it’s hard to prevent teenagers from doing what they want to do.

“But what we can do is place a hurdle. If they have to go 30 miles (across state lines) then that makes it a little harder, and when the kids they hang with in high school can’t purchase cigarettes at the local convenience store then they have to reach a little further to try to find a place where they can buy,” Kurita said.

“Our goal is ‘Let us do everything we can to prevent young children from taking up what is a deadly, addictive habit.’”

Legislators said the state will lose a substantial amount of sales tax revenue if the law is enacted, although they did not provide specifics. But they also said TennCare spends $148 million annually on tobacco-related illnesses.

When asked, those same legislators said they don’t believe members of the tobacco industry will fight this bill.

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