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PA raises minimum age to buy tobacco to 21

HARRISBURG –Pennsylvania will become the 19th state in the nation to raise its minimum tobacco buying age to 21 with an exception made for active members of the military and veterans with honorable discharges who must be at least 18.

Come July 1, most teenagers will be breaking the law if they buy or attempt to buy cigarettes or e-cigarettes in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday signed legislation that prohibits the sale of any tobacco, nicotine or related item to anyone under 21 years of age. The new law includes an exception made for active members of the military and veterans who were honorably discharged who are at least 18 years of age.

“I want to make sure kids are not adopting addictive behavior,” Wolf said. “We should not expose our children to addictive behavior and smoking with nicotine is something that is addictive.”

The legislation also would prohibit the possession of tobacco products on school grounds for students and adults alike. However, local school boards could retain the option of creating a designated outdoor smoking area for non-students.

It also exempts all products permitted and sold through Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program.

Violations that apply to both the underage buyers and sellers would be summary offenses, which are typically punishable by fines.

The bill, championed in the Senate by Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe County, passed both the House, 135-49, and Senate, 44-5. Now that it’s law, Pennsylvania is on track to become the 19th state that is part of a nationwide effort to discourage high school-age youth from accessing cigarettes and other tobacco products, especially “vaping” ones, and becoming a habitual smoker.

All of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states, with the exception of West Virginia, have raised their minimum tobacco buying age to 21.

“If you’re going to make a choice and you’re not going to have a healthy lifestyle, you should make that choice when you’re an adult,” Wolf said. “Children should not be called upon to make choices that could affect the rest of their lives.”

The thought behind raising the minimum tobacco buying age to 21 is that it would make it harder for 15- to 17-year-olds to be able to buy tobacco or vaping products because they would be less likely to pass for the higher legal age, advocates say. And it would help prevent high school teens from getting cigarettes from a classmate who is 18.

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