Iowa Senate passes a bill to raise minimum age to purchase tobacco

The Iowa Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, but some lawmakers think more needs to be done to address youth nicotine addiction.


Katie Goodale

The Iowa State Capitol building is seen in Des Moines on April 9, 2019.

Julia Shanahan and Rylee Wilson

The Iowa Senate passed a bill 43-6 on Wednesday that would make the minimum age to buy tobacco and tobacco products to 21, while placing misdemeanor penalties on retailers who violate this provision.

The current minimum age to purchase tobacco products in the state is 18.

The bill, SF2268, which was introduced in the Senate State Government Committee, states that “Any sales of tobacco, tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, vapor products, or cigarettes made through a cigarette vending machine are subject to rules and penalties relative to retail sales of tobacco, tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, vapor products, and cigarettes provided for in this chapter.”

This law would apply to products like Juul pods, which are popular among teenagers and college students under 21 and sold in most convenient stores and gas stations. A Juul pod is the part of a Juul, similar to an e-cigarette, that contains about 0.7 mL of vaping liquid and anywhere from 3 to 5 percent nicotine.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, criticized Juul and tobacco company Altria, which owns a large share of Juul for advertising to young teenagers. Bolkcom advocated for amendment S-5058, which clarifies the definition of tobacco products to include vapor products like Juuls.

Bolkcom said the amendment would increase the price of vapor products through the tax on tobacco products, making them more difficult for young teenagers to afford.

“While raising the age to 21 is doing something, it’s not going to have much of an impact on teenage users. Today it’s 18, and it’s not stopping 14,15 and 16 year olds from using these vape products,” Bolkcom said.

There is currently an excise tax of $1.36 per cigarette pack in addition to a sales tax, but the excise tax does not apply to vaping products.

Sen. Claire Celsi advocated for an amendment adding vaping to the Smoke Free Air Act, prohibiting vaping public places.

“What this amendment does is put vaping on par with smoking, just like the spirit of this law does,” Celsi said on the Senate floor. “We don’t want to send a signal to young people that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking, because we don’t have long term research on that yet.”

The amendment was ruled to be too far outside the scope of the original bill, and was not added to the final bill.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the amendment would have been an asset in improving public health.

“We missed a couple of terrific opportunities to enhance the enforcement of our anti-smoking law. Smoking in public places, rather by vaping, or cigarettes, is something that pollutes the air and threatens public health.”

The Iowa Department of Public Health pre-filed a bill in January that would have amended the Smoke Free Air Act to ban the use of vaping products in public spaces, the same provision Celsi advocated for on the Senate floor.

The Daily Iowan reported in January upon opening of the legislative session that some lawmakers were unsure if there would be an appetite for tightening tobacco and vaping regulations.

In December 2019, a bill that was signed by President Trump and passed both chambers of Congress raised the federal minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21.

The Iowa Senate messaged SF2268 to the House for consideration after they adjourned on Wednesday.

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