New Jersey may become second state to raise smoking age to 21

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Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie responds to a question during the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RTX1NEG4

Republican presidential candidate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie responds to a question during the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, on Aug. 6, 2015. Christie has until Jan. 19 to sign into law a bill that would raise the smoking age to 21 in New Jersey. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill Monday that would fine retailers up to $1,000 for selling tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, to people under 21 years of age.

Following Hawaii, New Jersey could become the second state to raise the smoking age to 21, should Gov. Chris Christie sign it into law. The governor will have until Jan. 19 to decide.

Previously, Christie vetoed a bill in 2014 that would have extended the state’s smoking ban to its public parks and beaches.

Although the 2014 bill had overwhelming support from both houses of the state’s Legislature, Christie said in his veto message that it was a decision best left for the local municipalities.

“I do not believe that the state should substitute its judgment for that of our local elected officials or upset the careful balancing of interests that informs the decision-making process at the local level,” the Republican presidential candidate said in his message.

In 2006, New Jersey raised the legal smoking age from 18 to 19.

Hawaii’s bill, which went into effect on Jan. 1, raised the smoking age to 21 at which young adults can legally purchase or smoke tobacco products, including cigarettes and their e-cigarettes.

Other states, such as California and Washington state, have also pushed for anti-tobacco bills that aim to impose new restrictions on tobacco use, especially on e-cigarettes, which are popular among underage smokers.

California’s bill, which it introduced last July, cited an Institute of Medicine report from March 2015 that said raising the smoking age to 21 would prevent more than 200,000 premature deaths for people born between 2000 and 2019.

A 2015 study from Ohio State University also said teenage brains are more “susceptible to nicotine addiction.”

“Beginning smoking at a young age increases the risk of long-term addiction to tobacco and to other drugs and makes quitting more difficult,” the study said.

Groups like the American Legion have opposed anti-tobacco bills, adding that if 18-year-olds can serve in the military, they should be able to smoke.

“These people are adults who are willing to put their life on the line for their country and they ought to be able to go buy a pack of cigarettes if they want to,” Pete Conaty, a lobbyist for the veterans group, told the Los Angeles Times.

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