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Romney and Stewart pushing to increase the legal smoking age to 21 nationwide

Chantel Williams vapes from a Juul pen in Vancouver, Wash., Tuesday, April 16, 2019. She tried gums, patches and various electronic cigarettes to quit smoking. What finally worked for Williams was the small, reusable e-cigarette that has a strong nicotine punch. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

Utah’s Sen. Mitt Romney and Rep. Chris Stewart, both Republicans, have joined a group of bipartisan politicians in support of raising the legal smoking age to 21 nationwide.

While our state has already passed a bill to raise our legal tobacco age, the Tobacco to 21 bill would extend that past Utah’s borders and across the entire nation.

The bill seems like a strange fit, however, for a politician like Stewart, who has so staunchly supported state’s rights in the past. To better understand why he believes it’s so important to raise the smoking age across the board, KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic spoke with Stewart about the impact he believes this law will have.

Rep. Chris Stewart on Tobacco to 21

Chris Stewart

Rep. Chris Stewart (Photo: KSL / Ravell Call)

“Combating tobacco use by children has been a priority of mine since first taking office,” Stewart says. “I think we’ve established over time that the older you are, the more responsible decisions you make.”

Tobacco to 21 is needed now, Stewart says, because of the increased use of tobacco among teens. Between 2017 and 2018, according to the CDC, tobacco use increased by 38.3 percent among high school students, a change primarily credited to rise of vaping and e-cigarettes.

“There’s a rising epidemic in cigarette use,” Stewart says. “We just felt that it was appropriate to say: this has serious health considerations, it’s something you should be more thoughtful about, and that’s best made as you have a little more age and experience.”

Stewart believes that discouraging 18-year-olds from smoking will make a big impact on how common smoking is in our high schools. Many 18-year-old smokers, he points out, are still in school, where their behavior can have a significant influence on their fellow teens.

The bill, however, is more focused on sending a message than it is on punishing young smokers. Those penalties, Stewart says, won’t be particularly severe. “That’s not our point,” he says. “Our point is to make it more difficult.”

More to the story

Dave & Dujanovic’s conversation with Stewart was respectful and professional — but in the end, they weren’t particularly convinced by what he had to say.

“This makes zero sense to me,” Dave Noriega said.

“Who is going to enforce this?” co-host Debbie Dujanovic agreed. “Where are we getting the funds?”

Hear their full conversation with Stewart and their breakdown of why this plan just doesn’t make sense to them on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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