Topic:
AGE OF MAJORITY; JUVENILES; SMOKING;
Location:
JUVENILES; SMOKING;

OLR Research Report


January 9, 2003

 

2003-R-0015

TOBACCO POSSESSION BY MINORS

By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney

You wanted to know if (1) a bill has been introduced in recent history in this state that prohibits minors from possessing tobacco and if so, what happened to it, and (2) any state prohibits possession of this type.

SUMMARY

The last time a bill was introduced to prohibit minors from possessing tobacco was in 1997 when Representative Robert Farr introduced HB 5450, which would have authorized municipalities to prohibit tobacco possession by minors. The bill, favorably reported by the Select Committee on Children and the Planning and Development Committee, died on the House calendar.

Until recently states tried to limit tobacco access to youths by enacting legislation prohibiting retailers from selling or distributing tobacco products to them. In fact, federal law (PL 102-231) requires states to prohibit manufacturers, retailers, or distributors from selling or distributing tobacco products to people under age 18 as a condition of receiving a federal substance abuse block grant.

In the past eight years, states began enacting legislation that also prohibits minors from possessing tobacco products. To date, it appears that at least 36 states, including four New England states, and the District of Columbia prohibit tobacco possession by minors. Table 1

shows these states. States impose a wide variety of penalties for possession violations ranging from cessation counseling to criminal fines or jail time. We have attached a copy of the 1997 bill, the public hearing testimony related to it, and brief summaries of the possession laws in other states.

Although Connecticut does not prohibit tobacco possession by minors, state law does make it illegal for anyone to sell, give, or deliver tobacco to a minor, other than an employee. It is also illegal for minors to misrepresent their age to purchase tobacco products. The former offense is punishable by a graduated fine, ranging from up to $200 for a first offense to up to $500 for a third offense committed within a specified period CGS 53-344). The latter is punishable by a fine of up to $50 for the first offense and between $50 and $100 for each subsequent offense.

CONNECTICUT PROPOSAL ON TOBACCO POSSESSION BY MINORS

In 1997, a bill, HB 5450 (An Act Authorizing Municipalities to Prohibit Possession of Tobacco By Minors), was introduced to extend the law on minors' access to tobacco by prohibiting possession. As suggested by the title, the bill would have permitted towns to adopt ordinances prohibiting minors from possession tobacco products. By law, towns that adopted these ordinances could have enforced them through a citation process and penalized violators up to $100.

The bill was referred to the Select Committee on Children, which scheduled a public hearing on the topic and later favorably reported the bill. Two people testified on the bill. Representative Robert Farr, the bill's sponsor, testified about tobacco's addictiveness and availability to minors. He stated that the bill would allow towns to decide whether to ban possession and allow police to enforce the town's decision. Bourke Spellacy, representing the Tobacco Institute, opposed the bill. He stated that the state policy on tobacco use should be uniform, not decided by town.

The Select Committee on Children favorably reported (unanimous vote) the bill to the Planning and Development Committee, which favorably reported it with a vote of 12 to 5. The bill died on the House calendar.

STATES THAT PROHIBIT TOBACCO POSSESSION BY MINORS

Table 1 shows a list of states that prohibit minors from possessing tobacco products. A few states, like Pennsylvania and Mississippi, limit the prohibition to school property or public places. A number of states, including Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia, recognize an exception for minors who possession the products as condition of employment (e.g., minors employed as stock clerks can stock cigarettes). In at least two states, Kentucky and Louisiana, the prohibition does not apply to minors who receive the products from his parent or guardian or possess them in the privacy of their home.

The penalty for possession varies by state. The typical penalty is confiscation of the product, a fine (civil or criminal), community service, tobacco education or cessation counseling, driver's license suspension, or jail time. The penalties are generally graduated based on the number of violations. For example, a first offense in Florida is punishable by 16 hours of community service or a $25 fine and attendance at a school-approved anti-tobacco program. A second violation within 12 weeks of the first is punishable by a $25 fine. And a third violation within 12 weeks of the first is a ground for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to withhold issuance of or suspend or revoke the violator's driver's license or driving privilege.

TABLE 1: STATES THAT PROHIBIT MINORS FROM POSSESSING TOBACCO

Alabama

Alaska

Arizona

Arkansas

California

Colorado

Florida

Idaho

Indiana

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

Maine

Maryland

Michigan

Mississippi

Missouri

Montana

New Hampshire

North Dakota

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Wyoming

       

For more information on youth access to tobacco, please visit the following websites: www.ncsl.org/programs/health/youthacc.htm, the American Lung Association at http://slati.lungusa.org/reports.asp, and http://tobaccofreekids.org/research/factsheets/pdf/0074.pdf.

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