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Should the age be raised?

House committee kills bill to raise minimum age to 21 to buy cigarettes

A House committee has killed a bill to raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products.

It was the first tobacco bill to be voted on this year in a legislative committee. House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith said he promised Rep. Deborah Dixon, D-Raymond, and author of the bill, that he would bring it up.

Dixon didn’t comment on the legislation.

Smith, R-Columbus, said he wasn’t a big smoker, dipper or drinker. He didn’t signal any position on the bill.

One lawmaker asked what age individuals can join the military and Smith said 18.

Dixon’s bill would have imposed a penalty from $150 to $450, depending on the number of convictions and other factors.

The state could have also suspended or revoked a business’ license to sell tobacco products under the legislation.

There are at least three other bills dealing with smoking or tobacco products filed in the Legislature:

House Bill 123 would prohibit individuals from smoking in a vehicle where there is a child under the age of 6.

House Bill 140 would also raise the age to 21 to purchase tobacco products.

House Bill 142 would create the Smoke-Free Air Act of 2018. It would prohibit smoking in enclosed public places, places of employment, private clubs, enclosed residential facilities, and certain outdoor public places.

The deadline to report bills out of committees is Jan.30.

A Mississippi Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids report says more than 25,000 high school students smoke and that about 1,600 children under the age of 18 become new smokers each year in the state.

Despite efforts by medical associations and others to pass smoke-free legislation, lawmakers have refused to go along. That has led to efforts in cities to pass ordinances.

As of January 2018, there are 143 totally smoke-free communities and three smoke-free counties in Mississippi, according to Mississippi Department of Health.

Although the bill by Dixon didn’t make it out of committee, Rhonda Shirley of The Partnership for a Health Mississippi said such legislation gives an opportunity to educate lawmakers about the dangers of smoking and advocate for policies including higher tobacco taxes and comprehensive smoke-free zones.

Shirley said the The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi supports bills to raise the minimum age to 21 to buy tobacco products.

Shirley said five states have passed such a law. Those states are California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon.

Contact Jimmie E. Gates at 601-961-7212 or jgates@gannett.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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