A Utah Senate committee held a bill to prevent those under the age of 19 from entering specialty tobacco shops on worries that it might set up some unintended consequences.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, says HB 131 simply reiterates current code – that someone under the age of 19 is not allowed to enter a specialty tobacco shop unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
"This section of the code has been confusing and ambiguous because of a number of exceptions and exemptions that have been carved out," said Powell. "This does not change what's already on the books. It just makes the current law much clearer."
Under current Utah law, a person has to be 19 in order to purchase tobacco and smoke. Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, says he's worried Powell's bill would affect thousands of soldiers at Hill Air Force Base who may come from states where it's legal to start smoking at a younger age.
"What about the young man who has been smoking legally for a couple of years who then comes to Utah. Are we going to make them a criminal simply because they step into a tobacco shop in Layton because they're under the age of 19?"
Committee chair Sen. Mark Madsen, R- Saratoga Springs, said there may be circumstances where someone, perhaps a delivery person or maintenance worker, under the age of 19 has to enter one of these shops not intending to purchase cigarettes.
"We are criminalizing their very physical presence within a space," he said.
Powell said those situations would likely be left up to prosecutorial discretion. Madsen countered that would make him extremely nervous.
"This is the worst kind of law because it's left up to discretion. We leave people in limbo when they have to wonder if they need to comply with a law that day. It puts people in an untenable position."
The senators urged Powell to rework his legislation, perhaps carving out an exemption for active duty members of the military.
Powell agreed to try and find a workable solution before bringing his legislation back for consideration.