Omaha senator looks to raise smoking age to 21

Posted by: Abigail Wood

Omaha Senator Merv Riepe introduced a bill Thursday to the Nebraska legislature that would raise the age for smoking, chewing, or vaping to 21. That’s up three years from the current minimum of 18.

"I know that if you can keep a young person from smoking just a few years later then maybe they’ll never get started," Riepe said.

If the bill goes through, possession of tobacco by someone under the age of 21 would be a misdemeanor, and if you got caught buying tobacco for someone underage you would have to pay a fine and could end up in jail.

Some local smoke shops are concerned.

"If we look at things that we tell 18-year-olds they can do," said Jason Hutchison with Jake’s Cigars and Spirits, "They can take out a student loan and be in debt. They can get credit cards, they can sign up to be in the military. They can get piercings and tattoos and plastic surgery. These are all things at 18 years old they say you’re legal, you’re fully aware, you’re conscious, you’re aware of the impacts of what you’re doing. But then for some reason cigarette smoking falls outside of that."

Senator Riepe says he understands that argument, but says if you have to wait until you are 21 to drink, then smoking should be the same.

"Do you really want to sell products that are unhealthy to young people?" Riepe said. "Does the government want to be a part of that?"

Last year, Grand Island Senator Mike Gloor tried to address the public health issue with a higher tobacco tax. That attempt was voted down.