Mixed feelings over bill to raise legal smoking age to 21 in Oregon

Oregon lawmakers pushing to rais legal smoking age to 21.

If you live in Oregon, you might not be able to smoke before you can legally have your first drink.

A bill passed by the Oregon Senate last week looks to raise the legal age of buying tobacco to 21.

SB 754 doesn't just cover tobacco, but also paraphernalia associated with it, like pipes, bongs and rolling papers.

Health advocates say raising the age will reduce the amount of smokers, but others say there are much more dangerous activities you can do at the age of 18.

“It's kind of unnecessary,” said Brian MacWilliam, a tobacco user. “I think 18 year olds are old enough to make their own decisions.”

After all, MacWilliam said, 18 is the age of adulthood in the United States. But some Oregon lawmakers don't think it's old enough to make responsible health decisions.

“If the problem is 18-year-olds aren't fully developed, then we shouldn't send them to Iraq,” said Cameron Dekany, general manager of 82nd Avenue Tobacco and Pipes.

Dekany’s says raising the age won't hit his business too much, since most of his customers are over 18. However, he adds it would make it easier to know who they can sell to.

“We wouldn't have the a three-year age gap where we can say well these guys can buy this for marijuana explicitly and these guys can't and we'll have to monitor that,” said Dekany.

The proposed change covers a three-year difference, but the American Cancer Society says it's enough to curb the appeal.

“If you don't start smoking before 21, you likely won't be a smoker in your lifetime,” said Christopher Friend, a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society.

According to the organization, 5,500 Oregon families lose a family member to tobacco every year. Not only will raising the age be easier for enforcement, but Friend says it's a moral responsibility.

“I think there are important issues where legislators can be leaders in our community and decide we want to be a healthy Oregon and pass these laws,” he said.

While losing tobacco sales will hit the bottom line, it's not enough for some to completely object the change.

“Overall, the business would lose some money, if it's for the greater good, then it's worth it for the business,” said Dekany.

SB 754 will now go to the House of Representatives for a vote. If it passes, Oregon will be the third state in the country, following California and Hawaii, to raise the legal smoking age to 21.

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