Bill to raise minimum tobacco age sales to 21 in Wyoming moves forward 'with teeth' in the Senate - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Bill to raise minimum tobacco age sales to 21 in Wyoming moves forward ‘with teeth’ in the Senate

Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, talks with Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A bill increasing the age a person has to be to buy tobacco products is one step closer to becoming a law, but not after some debate in the Wyoming Senate on Thursday, Feb. 20.

SF 50 would increase the state’s age to purchase to tobacco products from 18 to 21, matching the federal executive order enacted in December 2019. The bill also defines what nicotine products are, including cigarettes, pipe tobacco, snuff and more. It does include vaping material and electronic cigarettes, too.

The bill would also penalize any retailers who sells to a person under 21 with a fine of $250 on the first offense and $500 fine on the second offense, if committed within a two year window. It originally intended to penalize underage consumers with the same financial penalization, but an amendment was adopted to remove that clause.

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Sen. Cale Case sponsored the amendment, joking that as a person who’s identified as a Libertarian, he couldn’t believe he sponsoring an amendment like this.

“No one else on my committee wanted to present this amendment, so here I am,” he joked to the Senate.

Since the new law was passed, there’s been a bit of a conundrum in Wyoming, as law enforcement officers were unable to enforce it.

An amendment sponsored by Sen. Affie Ellis caused some debate in the Senate on Thursday afternoon, though. The suggestion was removing fines on retailers that sell nicotine products to anyone under 21.

“When we worked on this bill in committee meetings, we talked to students and asked them where they were getting vaping products,” she told her fellow senators. “What we heard was a resounding response: online and through their friends. We didn’t feel it was fair to only focus on these retailers.”

She believed that people working at tobacco retailers like gas stations would be able to identify a young person trying to buy cigarettes, so she thought the financial penalty wasn’t appropriate.

Sen. Tara Nethercott argued against her Laramie County colleague, stating that the fines weren’t hefty whatsoever and that retailers should have nothing to fear if they don’t sell to anyone under 21.

“There has to be some kind of teeth in these laws,” Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton agreed.

Ellis’ amendment ultimately failed to be adopted, but the bill was passed through the Committee of the Whole, now to be readied for a second reading, which will likely occur next week due to Friday, Feb. 21’s agenda of biennium budget discussion.

If signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon, the age increase would go into effect on July 1, 2020.