Oregonians under the age of 21 will not be able to buy cigarettes come Jan. 1.
Oregon is about to become the third state in the nation to raise the age for buying tobacco products, following a 39-to-20 vote in the Oregon House on Thursday. The Senate passed the measure in March, 19 to 8.
Senate Bill 754 was scheduled to return to the Senate late Thursday for expected concurrence because the House amended the bill to make it clear that possessing tobacco isn’t illegal for those under 21.
Gov. Kate Brown is all in on anti-smoking laws and is expected to sign the bill with some relish.
Only California and Hawaii have raised the age. The New Jersey Legislature passed a bill, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it.
The purpose is to get young adults past the age where nicotine addiction takes hold, lawmakers said, citing that 95 percent of lifelong smokers start before the age of 21.
Smoking damages the prefrontal cortex, otherwise know as the higher brain, Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, said.
“The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that influences personality, decision making, impulses, attention and problem solving,” he said. “If a youth starts smoking before the age of 25, this habit becomes an addiction. By the age of 25, this addiction is cemented in the brain and it becomes very difficult -- almost impossible -- to quit.”
Raising the age cuts the pipeline of tobacco and flavored e-cigarettes into high school populations where many seniors turn 18, advocates said.
Each year, roughly 1,800 Oregon kids become smokers, according to bill proponent, the American Cancer Society.
House minority leader Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, agreed with the measure’s promoters that tobacco is unhealthy, but he said it shouldn’t be regulated because it doesn’t impair users like marijuana or alcohol.
“At a certain point you’ve got to decide: where’s the line? I draw it at impairment,” he said.
Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, said it’s unfair to 18-year-olds who are legally adults who can get married, sign contracts, join the military and vote -- but will not have the liberty to choose whether to smoke.
“We can’t legislate everything,” he said.
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Beaverton, who’s a family physician pushed the bill in the Senate.
The bill “will prevent young people from a lifetime of tobacco and e-cigarette addiction,” she said. “If signed by the governor, this new law will go a long way to preventing cancer as well as heart and lung disease.”