States move to hike smoking age

— 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.”

Altria Group Inc., which owns the country’s largest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, said in a statement Friday that they support 18 as the minimum age to purchase tobacco, which Congress approved in 2009.

The company, whose tobacco brands include Marlboro, Parliament and Virginia Slims, said states should wait until the Food and Drug Administration finishes a pending study of 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,” the statement said.

Altria said the company supports efforts to prevent underage use of tobacco.

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