Lawmaker wants Rhode Island to be 1st state to raise the age for legal tobacco purchases to 21

A Rhode Island lawmaker wants to make the state the first in the nation to raise the age for legal tobacco purchases to 21.

A House committee on Wednesday was scheduled to consider Democratic Rep. Teresa Tanzi's bill to raise the age from 18. Tanzi says making it harder for young people to get cigarettes could prevent them from starting to smoke.

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Although some municipalities including New York City have raised the minimum age to 21, no state has done so. Four states have set the age at 19.

Tanzi's bill would apply to all forms of tobacco and take effect immediately. She expects support from public health professionals.

Tanzi, who represents Narragansett and South Kingstown, expects opposition from the tobacco industry and retailers on border towns.

"I know it will impact them to some degree, but we have to enact policies that are best for the welfare of the entire state," she said. "It just makes sense to me that with all of the evidence in front of us, we should be raising the age to 21."

The Institute of Medicine issued a report this month that said raising the legal age to buy tobacco nationwide to 21 would result in more than 200,000 fewer premature deaths, about 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost for people born between 2000 and 2019.

It would take an act of Congress to increase the federal minimum age from 18.

The federal report found that about 90 percent of daily smokers first tried a cigarette before the age of 19.

Rhode Island-based CVS drew national attention last year when it pulled tobacco products from its stores.