GREENWOOD, Ark. (KFSM) — A local legislator wants to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in Arkansas to 21.
With the support of 17 other lawmakers, State Representative Lee Johnson of Greenwood filed a bill earlier this week.
Johnson says he's doing this for the health of Arkansas.
The bill would require people to display proof that they are 21 years of age to purchase tobacco, vape, e-cig products and even cigarette paper.
Johnson says something must be done to stem the tobacco and e-cigarette epidemic in the state.
"If you look at Arkansas, we have around 5,800 tobacco-related deaths a year, and we're spending about $795 million a year of Arkansas tax dollars on Medicaid dollars related to tobacco-related illness," said Johnson.
David Gutierrez, the manager of a vape shop in Fort Smith, says he's in favor of the bill.
"I definitely agree with it because that's just another step for minors to get away from buying illegally. It's not really going to hurt our business that much just because most of our customers are over the age of 21," said Derek Gutierrez.
The co-owner of Winston's Pipe and Cigar Emporium, Sammy Fiori, dislikes the idea of raising the age to 21.
"I just feel like by the time of 18 I think you're mature enough to make a decision on whether or not you want to smoke tobacco product or not," said Fiori.
Fiori says the change would impact his business.
"I'd say on average the majority of our customers are above 21. We have very few loungers that are under the age of 21. Will, it hurt our business? Yes. Will it put us out of business? Absolutely not," said Fiori.
Johnson says nationwide 18 to 21-year-olds only make up about two percent of the population that purchase tobacco products.
"You're most suspectable to addiction in this age frame and the teenage years so, I think we're doing our children a disservice and the 15 to 17-year-old age bracket. Which is where this will be most effective," said Johnson.
Military personal between 18 and 21 would be exempt under the terms of the bill.