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Lawmakers bring back tobacco 21 legislation

September 13, 2021 12:01 PM | Anonymous

Wisconsin Health News

Lawmakers have brought back legislation that would align state law with federal law by raising the tobacco purchase age to 21, but health groups would like to see the bill amended to have a wider definition of vapor products.

The bill would align state law with the federal tobacco purchase age, enacted in 2019. 

The legislation would allow state law enforcement to carry out the requirement since Wisconsin law otherwise doesn’t allow them to enforce non-criminal violations of federal law, bill author Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said at a Thursday public hearing.

If the state doesn’t comply with the federal law, it could also lose its federal substance abuse and treatment block grant funds, which amounts to $2.7 million annually, Marklein added.

He noted the bill has the support of business groups, convenience stores and the tobacco industry. 

“We support this bill because raising the minimum age to 21 is one of the most effective ways to reduce underage use of tobacco products, a goal that we strongly support,” David Fernandez, vice president of public policy for Altria, told members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

Health groups would like to see an expansion of the bill’s definition for vapor products.

Nicole Hudzinski, government relations director for the American Heart Association, said current state tax law defines e-cigarettes as devices and not liquids unless they’re sold together as one packaged item.

While the bill would apply to liquids with nicotine, it wouldn't for other liquids that also contain harmful ingredients, Hudzinski said. Accessories aren’t covered under the definition either.

And she added that some products are advertising themselves as gels and would not be included if the bill only specified liquids. 

“We are really, really encouraging the committee to consider having a more comprehensive definition as we move forward,” Hudzinski said. 

Committee Chair Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said he is working on the issue. 

Sen. Eric Wimberger, R-Green Bay, has a “philosophical problem” with the bill. 

“And I certainly don’t like the federal government dictating us,” Wimberger said. “The arguments, I think, are kind of obvious, but I won’t have to reiterate them, all about what it means to be 18 and whatnot.” 

Wanggaard said he supports the plan in part because of concerns with the health effects of vaping. 

 The Assembly approved the legislation in early 2020, but the Senate didn’t take up the bill after it canceled one of its final floor periods due to COVID-19. 

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