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    New Jersey Senate Panel Passes Higher Smoking Age

    State may become fourth in the nation to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco to 19.

    TRENTON, N.J. -- A New Jersey state Senate panel approved a bill aimed at reducing smoking among high school students by making it illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under 19, reported New Jersey’s The Jersey Journal . The current age limit is 18.

    If it becomes law, New Jersey would become the fourth state in the country to raise the age limit. Alabama, Alaska and Utah are the only states that have raised the legal age for sales of tobacco to 19, according to the governor's office. The bill has been introduced in the state Assembly, but awaits committee action, according to the report.

    "We’re confident that our kids will make the right choice, and avoid the trap of tobacco and nicotine addiction. They will live healthier and longer lives, smoke-free," said Sen. Joseph F. Vitale, who sponsored the bill with the Senate president, acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, according to the report.

    Codey, noting that most smokers start as teens, told The Jersey Journal , "If we can prevent this from happening, we can prevent countless young people from developing this deadly habit and eventually save lives."

    The bill was approved 6-0 by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, which Vitale chairs.

    A recent state report found that 69 percent of adults said they smoked their first cigarette before age 18. One-third of the state's high school students smoke cigarettes, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

    Also last week an anti-smoking group sent legislators a list of 177 municipalities whose governing bodies or boards of health passed resolutions in support of a bill that would ban smoking in restaurants and bars, reported The Jersey Journal .

    Opponents of such a ban, including restaurateurs and casino officials, have said it would result in lost business and lost jobs.

    Codey and Gov.-elect Jon S. Corzine told The Jersey Journal they support a smoking ban, but acknowledge casinos may need an exemption.

    The bill is to be considered by an Assembly committee on Thursday.

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