Maryland debates raising age to buy tobacco products

WASHINGTON — Maryland lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it illegal for anyone under 21 to buy tobacco products.

The current minimum age in Maryland is 18. Six states and the District of Columbia have already raised the purchase age to 21, and Virginia is on track to enact similar legislation.

Jocelyn Collins, the government relations director for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, says the number of teenagers taking up smoking is on the increase. The latest figures, she says, show that 1,900 teenagers a year in Maryland become daily smokers.

Collins says e-cigarettes are the favored product among young people, “The second top thing they’re using is they’re smoking cigars, the third thing is cigarettes and the fourth thing is smokeless tobacco, so this is a real concern for us.”

Collins and other advocates of raising the purchase age say it would be an effective deterrent, but opponents of Senate Bill 895 are skeptical, arguing that current enforcement is uneven and that as long as teenagers can vote and sign up for military service, raising the age to 21 for buying cigarettes makes little sense.

David Sadugor, president of the Maryland Association of Tobacco and Candy Distributors, expressed frustration with efforts like those in Virginia and Maryland. “Our society can’t [seem to] decide what’s an adult and what isn’t,” he said.

Sadugor called Virginia’s exception, allowing members of the military between the ages of 18 and 21 to buy tobacco products, hypocritical. “Either the age is 18 or it’s 21,” he said, arguing that “If you’re old enough to vote, you’re old enough to make decisions like whether to smoke or enter military service.”

A new Goucher University poll of 800 Maryland residents shows 66 percent of those asked favor raising the purchase age to 21.

A hearing for the bill sponsored by Md. Sen. Delores Kelley, a Democrat who represents Baltimore County, has not yet been scheduled.

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