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Bill set to raise PA smoking age to 21

Legislation that would raise the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products from 18 to 21 made it through the state Senate on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 473 passed by a vote of 43 yeas to 6 nays. It was introduced by Republican Senator Mario Scavello, who represents Monroe and Northampton counties.

In a memorandum supporting the bill from Scavello, it states: “We are seeing an ever-increasing number of teens ages 15 to 17 who are getting cigarettes from their 18-year-old high school peers. Increasing the minimum legal sales age to 21 would delay or reduce tobacco usage to the greatest extent, and could have the greatest effect in reducing underage access to tobacco through the social source of legal-age peers.”

According to the memorandum, nationally, in the last 50 years, nearly 21 million people in the U.S. died due to tobacco-related illnesses, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the country. In Pennsylvania, 18 percent of adults and 13 percent of high school students are current smokers, representing a combined 1.9 million current smokers.

Preventing youth initiation of tobacco is important for reducing the overall damage that tobacco use causes because 81 percent of current smokers first began smoking before they turned 21 years of age, according to the memorandum.

In addition to Scavello, Senate Bill 473 was co-sponsored by Senators Costa, Laughlin, Blake, Haywood, Brewster, Argall and locally by Scott Hutchinson. Attempts to reach Hutchinson for comment on Wednesday were not successful.

The bill will now head to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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