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Tennessee lawmakers propose raising age for tobacco purchases, Van Huss calls it 'government intrusion'

Brandon Paykamian • Feb 26, 2019 at 5:34 PM

Lawmakers in Tennessee are considering whether to follow their neighbor’s example after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill last week to raise the age for tobacco purchases to 21.

Senate Bill 1200 and House Bill 1454, recently proposed by Sen. Shane Reeves and Rep. Bob Ramsey, aim to prohibit the sale of tobacco products and e-cigarettes to those under 21. The legislation has drawn the support of the American Cancer Society, whose members described the legislation as “potentially lifesaving public health measures.”

“Raising the age of sale for tobacco products can be a critical component of a comprehensive strategy to reduce initiation and lifelong tobacco addiction,” Tennessee American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network spokesperson Emily Ogden said in a press release Monday.

“Smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death nationwide. In Tennessee, smoking will claim an estimated 11,400 lives this year alone, and nearly 33 percent of all cancer deaths are related to tobacco use.”

But some local lawmakers, like Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, disagree with the legislation. Van Huss said he will not support the bill.

“I don’t like voting for legislation that protects my constituents from themselves. If we can trust 18-year-olds to serve in the military, then we can trust them to make their own decisions about tobacco,” he said. “It’s just more government intrusion into their lives, and I won’t support it.”

Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, who serves on the Health Committee and as deputy speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, agreed with part of Van Huss’ assessment of the bill, but he was unclear about whether he would support the legislation or not.

“It is a public health issue, but it’s just one of those things I think you have to be careful about,” he said.

“While we are committed to improving the health outcomes of our citizens, we must be cautious and not overreach on their individual liberties,” Hill added in an email statement to the Press later Tuesday. “I look forward to working with the sponsor of this initiative and to further discussions with my colleagues related to this issue in the weeks ahead.”

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