Wisconsin lawmakers propose new bill to raise legal smoking age

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The legal smoking age in Wisconsin could be going up if a new initiative makes its way through the state legislature.

The new bill with bipartisan support is going through the legislature, If passed, it changes the age for buying tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21.

Tobacco and nicotine use amongst Wisconsin’s youth is increasing at a staggering rate according to the American Heart Association, but a new bill is looking to protect Wisconsin’s youth from the dangerous habit.

Representative Jodi Emerson says that the rise in youth smoking numbers is mostly attributed to vaping.

"One of the things that we're seeing a huge growth in children, adolescents, teens, is vaping,” Emerson said. “They're thinking, I don't want to smoke or use cigarettes, but vaping, in their mind, is a healthy alternative."

The new bill with bipartisan support is going through the legislature.

If passed, it changes the age for buying tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21.

According to the American Heart Association, 95 percent of smokers start before they turn 21 and every year, thousands of Wisconsin teens become daily smokers, something that Emerson says is affecting youth brain development.

"Growing bodies need to be as healthy as possible and the younger that somebody is when they start smoking, the more likely it is to be a lifelong habit,” she said. “If we can stretch that from age 18 to 21, perhaps they won’t start at all."

But what about people who are already 18 and buy smoking products?

"They wouldn't be grandfathered in like it was when it went from 18 to 21 for the drinking age. I remember you could drink when you were 19 and 20 or whatever; it kind of edged up a little bit,” Emerson said. “It wouldn't be the same"

Emerson says while there might possibly be some economic impact from the bill, the health of Wisconsinites should take priority.

"I haven't seen any fiscal impacts of it yet,” she said. “Theoretically, we're looking at losing tax base as well, but I think this is something that all responsible adults should be willing to lose some money in order to keep our children and young adults safe."

Republican lawmakers did not immediately respond for comment, but Emerson says that the bill has strong bipartisan support.

Along with the American Heart Association, the bill also has support from several health advocacy groups including: Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Marshfield Clinic Health System, Marshfield Children’s Hospital, UW Health, American Family Children’s Hospital, and Boys and Girls Club of Wisconsin.