By Betsy Z. Russell
BOISE – An Idaho senator says the state should raise its smoking age from 18 to 21.
“I feel very strongly about this,” said Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise.
He’s been serving on the state’s Millennium Fund committee, which directs proceeds from a nationwide tobacco settlement to health-related programs, including “spending millions of dollars to encourage young people” not to smoke. Martin said he’s started to wonder about “diminishing returns.”
“Statistics I’ve seen, as high as 95 percent of adult smokers started before the age of 21,” Martin said. “So if we want to do something, really do something … I think if we cut off the source.”
Martin said some other states are looking at similar moves, but he didn’t pattern his bill after any of them.
After Martin presented his bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday morning, there was a pause, and committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, started to say that the proposal would die for lack of a motion.
But Troy Rohn, who is filling in for Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, made a motion and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, of Rexburg, seconded it.
With that, the committee voted unanimously to print and introduce Martin’s bill, which means it’ll be assigned a bill number, though there’s no guarantee it will proceed to a full hearing. It would forbid both possession of tobacco and its sale to those under 21.
But some who agreed to move forward indicated they wouldn’t vote for it.
“I certainly understand the negative effects and what happens when you use tobacco,” said Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa. “The question in my mind is we give folks at the age of 18 a lot of responsibility and ability to make choices, and that’s the balance I would struggle with between 18 and 21.”
Asked if he thought his bill had a chance of passing, Martin said he would “proceed as far as I possibly can to see where we go.”
“I think it’s a very, very important discussion, to curtail tobacco use among young people in Idaho for the health problems that that creates,” he said.