2014 Bills

SB12: Raising the Age Limit for Tobacco Products in Utah

This bill failed in the Senate, 12-16. Visit our Legislative Index to see the final vote rankings for the 2014 general session.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill.

SB12, sponsored by Senator Reid, prohibits the possession of tobacco, e-cigarettes, or paraphernalia by an individual less than 21 years of age. It also bans the sale of such items to those under 21, and prohibits those under 21 from being present at certain establishments where such items are sold or used.

Criminalizing legal adults from engaging in a behavior harmful to themselves is not the proper role of government; Utah law should protect people from harm by others, not micromanage their lives to minimize harm they may bring to themselves.

18-year-olds are adults by legal definition. Men and women at this age may join the military and be sent to die for their country. They can vote and thereby determine who runs the government that rules over them. Should they commit a crime, they will be tried as an adult in court. Thus, by increasing the age limit for certain actions, the state is telling adults that they are still juveniles to be parented under its claim to be parens patriae. In short, adults are not actually treated as such by the state.

Lawmakers should enact policy on principle and proper authority. Instead, too often they engage in data-driven decisions they feel justifies shaping society through coercive government mandates. For example, Senator Reid has said, “If people have not smoked by age 21, studies show it is extremely unlikely that they will ever begin smoking.” While these studies may well be true, they do not provide any authority for the government to pass a law in an effort to change the trend.

If your 20-year-old neighbor lights up a cigarette in the comfort of his basement bedroom, do you have the moral authority to intervene? Are you justified in using any form of coercion against him? Would you feel it appropriate to help him avoid addiction by stealing his wallet in the name of collecting a fine? Few would support personally performing such an action, yet many justify their government doing it indirectly on their behalf. It’s important to recall that governments only justly operate with the delegated authority of the citizens who comprise them; if you cannot do something, you cannot delegate that non-existent authority to the state.

Still, we should seek for ways to encourage young adults (and all individuals) to avoid addictive, self-destructive behavior. Non-profit organizations, parent groups, health insurance agencies, churches, and other voluntary institutions should coordinate their efforts and work through persuasion to combat tobacco and other addictions. However it happens, the state should play no part.