By Hunter Lovell, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — House lawmakers struck down a proposal Thursday to raise Louisiana’s legal smoking age from 18 to 21. The bill was only backed by 24 legislators while 55 voted against it.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, would have banned anyone under 21 to purchase tobacco, alternative nicotine or vaping products.
Lawmakers already had their reservations about the bill when it advanced through the House Appropriations Committee earlier this month. In an effort to accommodate legislators’ concerns, the proposed bill would have exempted first responders, military members and veterans.
Still, the bill fell short of the support needed to pass in the lower chamber.
A higher smoking age, Hoffmann stressed, would result on health benefits and health care savings. He also cited reports from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids that showed 7,200 Louisianians die from smoking each year and that the state pays $1.8 billion in annual health care costs.
“Folks, this is a health issue,” said Hoffmann, a former smoker, in his closing remarks. “It’s a simple but tremendously important concept. It’ll reduce deaths, make better health, save money in the long run and make life better for many.”
Fourteen states have already passed laws to raise the minimum smoking age to 21, according to data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The state would have lost $5 million in revenue by raising the smoking age, according to the bill’s price tag.
Opponents argued that the bill would restrict people’s liberties.
Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, argued the state should not outlaw retailers from selling tobacco products to people under 21 because smoking is legal nationwide.
Harris, who is the owner of several convenience stores that also sell tobacco products, contended that health risks from smoking are already posted on products and the precedent for restricting smoking would carry over to other items such as soft drinks.
“Eighteen-year-olds right now can get married, they can die for your country, but they can’t make the decision to smoke?” Harris asked. “Are you going to raise the age on twinkies to 21?”
Even some anti-smoking groups did not back Hoffman’s bill. They argued that the numerous exceptions, which were added by lawmakers in the committee, weakened the proposed law.
Ashley Hebert, government relations director at the American Heart Association, commented in an interview that the provision by Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley,
to allow retailers to markup the price of smoking products on customers and keep the money was “the nail in the coffin.”
“This particular piece of legislation,” Hebert said, “lacks enforcement mechanisms on the retailer.”