Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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February 21, 2014

Colorado, Utah move to hike smoking age to 21

(Continued)

Armando Peruga, program manager of the World Health Organization's Tobacco Free Initiative, said he supported the U.S. proposal, provided that it would be strictly enforced and that it was accompanied by other tobacco control measures, such as high taxes and smoke-free regulations.

"It needs to be part of a comprehensive policy to counter the tobacco industry's influence on young people," Peruga said.

Four states, including Utah, already require tobacco purchasers to be 19. The others are Alabama, Alaska and New Jersey.

Fisher said the 21-for-tobacco bills are also pending in state legislatures in Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Maryland lawmakers considered and rejected the idea this year. New York City last year raised the tobacco age to 21, as did Hawaii County, Hawaii.

Utah already has the nation's lowest smoking rate, about 12 percent in 2011 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Colorado isn't far behind, at about 18 percent in 2011, according to the CDC.

Despite the low rates, health advocates in both states testified that a higher tobacco age could depress the rates even further.

"Moving it to later, obviously we can help reduce use," said Bob Doyle, head of the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance.

When the legal age of smoking was raised from 16 to 18 in the U.K., there was a significant drop in the number of people who started smoking, University College London's Robert West said.

"The ages from 18 to 21 is a period of huge uptake and even if you're able to delay (teenagers) from starting smoking rather than preventing it altogether, there would be a significant health benefit. You're essentially allowing the rather scrambled adolescent brain to settle down and avoid smoking during that period before they turn 21, after which they may decide they absolutely do not want to smoke anyways," he said.

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Price reported from Salt Lake City. AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report.

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Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt. Michelle Price can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/michellelprice

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