New Jersey may be second state to raise smoking age to 21

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey could become the second state to raise the smoking age to 21, as part of a movement that's been spurred in part by a major study released last year and a sharp increase in electronic cigarette use among young people.

The state's Legislature on Monday passed a bill that would fine retailers up to $1,000 if they sell cigarettes or other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes that are often called "vapes," to anyone 20 years old or younger. The law wouldn't punish underage smokers.

It's unclear whether Gov. Chris Christie will sign it into law. He has until Jan. 19 to decide, and a spokesman declined to comment Tuesday on the governor's intentions. In 2014, the Republican presidential candidate vetoed a bill that passed with overwhelming support to extend a smoking ban to parks and public beaches, saying local municipalities should be able to decide.

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New Jersey may be second state to raise smoking age to 21
In this photo taken Tuesday, July 7, 2015, Will Braaten, 19, exhales vapor from an e-cigarette at the Vapor Spot, in Sacramento, Calif. As e-cigarettes rise in popularity, “vape shops” are popping up around the nation, places where customers can gather to inhale doses of nicotine through a flavored vapor solution. Industry officials say California is at the epicenter, with an estimated 1,400 retailers, operating largely without regulations in a Wild West atmosphere, but rules are imminent. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Jonathan Brower is the owner of Waldo Vapes in Kansas City, Mo., which sells some high-end vaping products. (David Pulliam/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
SAN RAFAEL, CA - JANUARY 28: A customer smokes an E-Cigarette at Digita Ciggz on January 28, 2015 in San Rafael, California. The California Department of Public Health released a report today that calls E-Cigarettes a health threat and suggests that they should be regulated like regular cigarettes and tobacco products. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN RAFAEL, CA - JANUARY 28: Rhiannon Griffith-Bowman smokes an E-Cigarette at Digital Ciggz on January 28, 2015 in San Rafael, California. The California Department of Public Health released a report today that calls E-Cigarettes a health threat and suggests that they should be regulated like regular cigarettes and tobacco products. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN RAFAEL, CA - JANUARY 28: A customer smokes an E-Cigarette at Digita Ciggz on January 28, 2015 in San Rafael, California. The California Department of Public Health released a report today that calls E-Cigarettes a health threat and suggests that they should be regulated like regular cigarettes and tobacco products. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN RAFAEL, CA - JANUARY 28: A customer smokes an E-Cigarette at Digital Ciggz on January 28, 2015 in San Rafael, California. The California Department of Public Health released a report today that calls E-Cigarettes a health threat and suggests that they should be regulated like regular cigarettes and tobacco products. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN RAFAEL, CA - JANUARY 28: E-Cigarette vaporizer components are displayed at Digital Ciggz on January 28, 2015 in San Rafael, California. The California Department of Public Health released a report today that calls E-Cigarettes a health threat and suggests that they should be regulated like regular cigarettes and tobacco products. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 24: The Ontario government announces new prohibitions on smoking E-Cigarettes any place real cigarettes are banned. (David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Cliff Phillips, a 61-year-old retiree and former smoker, and his wife, Vali, enjoy electronic cigarettes at their home in Cuba, Ill., Tuesday, May 31, 2011. Electronic cigarettes like the one used by Phillips are at the middle of a social and legal debate over whether it's OK to "light up" in places where regular smokes are banned. E-cigarettes, which are gaining popularity and scrutiny worldwide, are plastic and metal devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution in a disposable cartridge, creating vapor that the "smoker" inhales. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
This Aug. 14, 2014 photo shows child-proof refill bottles of liquid nicotine at Salt Lake Vapors, in Salt Lake City. Poison control workers say that as the e-cigarette industry has boomed, the number of children exposed to the liquid nicotine that gives hand-held vaporizing gadgets their kick also is spiking. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that more than 2,700 people have called about a liquid nicotine exposure this year, up from a few hundred cases three years ago. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Daryl Cura demonstrates an e-cigarette at Vape store in Chicago, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. The federal government wants to ban sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
In this photo taken Thursday, July 16, 2015, Scot Taylor, left, manager of the Vapor Spot and customer Bruce Schillin, 32 exhale vapor from e-cigarettes at the e-cigarette store in Sacramento, Calif. As e-cigarettes rise in popularity, “vape shops” are popping up around the nation, places where customers can gather to inhale doses of nicotine through a flavored vapor solution. Industry officials say California is at the epicenter, with an estimated 1,400 retailers, operating largely without regulations in a Wild West atmosphere, but rules are imminent. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Hawaii became the first state to raise the smoking age to 21 starting Jan. 1, and similar measures have been introduced in eight other states and the District of Columbia. Federal lawmakers have also proposed a nationwide smoking age of 21.

"This is a tipping point," said Rob Crane, president of the Ohio-based Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, which supports the legislation. "The fact that New Jersey's legislators were able to stand up to the tobacco lobby is a tribute to the leadership in New Jersey."

Crane said that so far it's been cities, not states, that have pushed the issue into the mainstream. New York City's law took effect in August 2014 and Boston's will change in February.

"Midwestern cities like Cleveland and Kansas City have also joined," Crane said. "It's not just an East Coast or West Coast issue."

Lawmakers also cite a 2015 study from the National Academy of Sciences that found raising the smoking age to 21 would reduce rates among teens by 12 percent, preventing more than 200,000 premature deaths.

The report employed computer models and reviewed the impact of various age restrictions on tobacco and alcohol use in cities and countries across the globe. Another oft-cited survey showed an almost 50 percent drop in smoking rates among high school students in Needham, Massachusetts, a town of nearly 30,000 that raised the age in 2005.

Advocates also point to the spike in the number of teens using electronic cigarettes. California and Hawaii have reported huge increases, with the latter seeing the rate of middle schoolers using e-cigs jump from 2 percent in 2011 to 12 percent in 2014.

Moses Heberlein, a 20-year-old from Ewing, doubts the change in New Jersey will impact him. He started at 16, three years before the legal age. Raising it to 21 would fail to stop him.

"I'm sure there are places out there that wouldn't question me," he said. "There were places in high school that never carded."

Veterans groups, including the American Legion, have also criticized such proposals, saying that service members willing to sacrifice their lives should have the right to choose to smoke. And some estimates predict that states like New Jersey will lose millions in tax revenue.

Carl Ortutay, who works at a tobacco shop in Lawrenceville, estimated that about a quarter of the shop's clientele would be affected by the change.

"But if they're going to smoke, they're going to smoke," he said. "Even if that means they're going to illegally do it."

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