PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota would join five other states that have raised the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 under a bill that passed its first legislative test on Tuesday.
The House Health and Human Services Committee voted 8-4 to advance the plan to the chamber’s floor. The panel passed the bill at the urging of health organizations, but lobbyists for stores that sell tobacco opposed it.
Megan Myers, a lobbyist for the American Heart Association in South Dakota, said the state has the opportunity to pass a policy that can save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in health care costs. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in South Dakota and the nation, she said.
“Simply put, tobacco use is not a right of passage or a sign of adulthood,” Myers said. “It’s a gateway to a lifetime of addiction to the only legally available, over-the-counter product in the United States that, when used as directed, can kill you and often those people around you.”
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says California, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine, along with many localities, have increased the tobacco age to 21.
Larry Mann, a lobbyist for Rapid City-based M.G. Oil Company, said the sale of fuel isn’t necessarily a highly profitable business, and in-store sales such as tobacco are a significant portion of convenience stores’ profit.
Republican Rep. Tim Rounds, an opponent, said he despises cigarette smoke, but said tobacco use is a choice that adults make.
“Tobacco is icky,” he said. “But people choose to do it. Adults choose to do it, and that’s where I’m going to stand on this bill.”
Legislative staff will do a fiscal review of the bill’s potential effects.