HB131: Bill would keep teens out of smoke shops

Mads Jensen
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House is set to vote on a bill that would restrict minors from entering tobacco and vaping shops.

HB131, passed a House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Feb. 3 and is waiting for a House floor vote. The goal of the bill is to prevent minors, those under 19, from entering specialty shops that receive at least 80 percent of their total revenue from the sale of cigarettes, tobacco, or electronic cigarettes.

HB131 would restrict teens from entering smoke shops in Utah.

HB131 would restrict teens from entering smoke shops in Utah.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, said, “Some people argue that minors are able to enter a specialty shop if products are kept behind counters, similar to what convenient stores and grocery shops do. That is the ambiguity in the law right now. No matter how tobacco is covered, minors should never be able to enter these shops. We need to clarify that.”

With the current lack of clarity, many establishments have experienced issues with how to deal with minors entering these shops. Police often find themselves uncertain about their authority as well as how to handle these situations.

According to the Utah Department of Health, young individuals are more likely to use electronic cigarettes than regular cigarettes. In fact, in the last two years tobacco use among adolescents has doubled despite the products unavailability to minors.

Lacking proper enforcement mechanisms, Powell believes that the clarifications addressed by HB131 will produce greater authority and decrease he amount of tobacco products consumed. Other methods of doing so are performing compliance checks on retailers and monitoring e-cigarettes more closely.

Some believe that e-cigarettes are considerably less harmful than traditional cigarettes; however, they still contain addictive nicotine and toxic substances. Studies on their effects are relatively new, and many of Utah’s citizens and politicians support new taxation of them.

Gov. Gary Herbert called the spread of electronic cigarettes a “public health issue,” expressing the idea that they should be taxed the same way that other tobacco products are taxed. He believes that the tax would not only slow the spread of e-cigarettes, but would also raise state revenue.

Powell is currently revising HB131 to be introduced to the Legislature once again. He is also working on another bill that changes the legal age of smoking to 21. He hopes that his efforts will ensure that young people make the decision to smoke at a later age. Research shows that this could drastically reduce the amount of people that smoke and as a result, benefit overall public health.

Specialty shop owners are concerned about the bill, claiming that they could experience a huge decrease in sales and potentially go out of business if stricter regulations are enforced.

“Cigarettes are proven to be bad for you, but overindulgence of sugar and a failure to exercise have been proven to be bad as well,” said John Hansgen of American Fork. “I understand that minors need to be exempted from these specialty shops, but it makes me wonder if this bill will lead to much harsher legislation and enforcement.”

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Categories: Utah Legislature, Utah News

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