Bill raising age to purchase tobacco on path for passage

Aiming to prevent young West Virginians from smoking, the West Virginia Senate passed a comprehensive tobacco bill (Senate Bill 348) that includes increasing the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 and making it a crime to smoke in a vehicle with a child present.

“This is probably the biggest public health bill that has come out of the Senate in my time,” said Senate Ron Stollings, D-Boone and a physician. “It’s a good day for public health in West Virginia.”

The bipartisan bill did not pass unanimously, with some senators saying the bill infringed on the rights of West Virginians.

Along with raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21, on par with the age to purchase alcohol, the bill adds language to better define e-cigarettes and vape products and increases fines for the sale of tobacco to those underage. If someone under age 21 is caught smoking, they can also be fined $50 or have their driver’s license suspended for 30 days.

The bill also makes it a crime to smoke in an enclosed vehicle with a child under age 17 present. The crime is a secondary traffic offense, meaning law enforcement officers cannot pull someone over just for smoking in the presence of a child. The fine is $25.

In a concession to the other side, the bill permits active military members 18 or older to purchase tobacco products.

Senators introducing Senate Bill 348 are: Tom Takubo (R-Kanawha), Michael Maroney (R-Marshall), Roman Prezioso (D-Marion), Ron Stollings (D-Boone), Glenn Jeffries (D-Putnam), Michael Woelfel (D-Cabell), William Ihlenfeld D-Ohio), Stephen Baldwin (D-Greenbrier) and Sue Cline (R-Wyoming).

Following passage of the bill by the Senate, the bill will be sent to the House of Delegates for its consideration.