Currently, the New Hampshire House of Representative is considering SB 248 or “The Tobacco 21 Bill”, which would codify in state statute action taking at the federal level to raise the tobacco sales age to 21. For the health and safety of Granite State youth, the American Lung Association and the Tobacco 21 Coalition, a diverse group made up of local public health advocacy and substance misuse prevention organizations, have been advocating for several years for the sales age to increase in New Hampshire and now we strongly urge the legislature to pass the SB 248. We recognize 21 as the evidence-based age proven to support prevention, healthy development, and long-term health and safety.
Late last year, the federal government raised the age to purchase tobacco products to 21. This was a very positive step forward; however, it complicated enforcement issues in the state as around the same time New Hampshire’s tobacco sales age was increased to 19. This discrepancy has created a gap with enforcement initiatives at the state and local level. The New Hampshire Liquor Commission Division of Enforcement, the authority responsible for enforcing tobacco laws, has stated that it can only enforce laws set by the State of New Hampshire which is 19. This is not enough to protect the health and safety of Granite State youth. To correct this and allow for enforcement of the sales age among retailers, we must pass SB 248.
New Hampshire’s rate of youth tobacco use remains one of the country’s highest and is continuing to rise. Due in large part to the ease at which they can access these products, 40 percent of Granite State youth have tried e-cigarettes and nearly 25 percent report regular use. This number could be even higher now as we know that during times of stress and uncertainty, like the time we are in now, young people may turn to smoking or vaping even more. We know that strong policies such as licensing, taxation of tobacco products, enacting smokefree places and the enforcement of them are key ways to reduce tobacco use. It is now time to make sure that Tobacco 21 is part of the toolbox and enforced in New Hampshire.
Already six New Hampshire towns — Dover, Keene, Franklin, Newmarket, Durham, and Lebanon have enacted Tobacco 21 ordinances, and it is time for the state to follow suit and clear up the confusion around retailer enforcement of the tobacco sales age.