By Jeff Jenkins, WV Metronews
The legal age to purchase tobacco products would go from 18 to 21 in a bill that passed the Senate Health Committee Thursday.
SB 266, which attempts to comply with federal provisions on tobacco, also includes the prohibition of the sale of tobacco-derived products, and alternative nicotine products like vaping products until someone is 21.
The wide sweeping bill adds a measure that would prohibit smoking in motor vehicles when there are kids under 16-years-old who are passengers. The violation would be a secondary offense and drivers could only be cited if they are pulled over for something else first.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, who is also a lung doctor, said he’s seen firsthand what secondhand smoke can do to children. He said personal freedoms end where injuries begin.
“I’m a strong believer in personal freedom until my freedom bleeds over onto someone else and that becomes a public safety issue, a public health issue,” Takubo said.
He’s tried to get a similar provision through the legislature in other tobacco bills, most recently last year, but the plan has failed to gain final approval. Takubo said there are plenty of other places to smoke.
“If there are other open spaces they can go to other places. But when you’re in a very confined space like a vehicle then that’s child abuse as far as I’m concerned,” Takubo said.
Health Committee Chairman Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, also a medical doctor, agreed with Takubo.
“Smoking in a closed space with young kids is without a doubt, in my opinion, child abuse without the fractures and bruises,” Maroney said.
The committee rejected a proposed amendment by Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, to remove the vehicle smoking language.
The bill, which now goes to the Senate Finance Committee, “further eliminates tobacco use in schools and designates prohibited areas of regulation of tobacco, tobacco-derived products, and alternative nicotine products for political subdivisions.”