NASHUA — With city leaders still divided on whether to raise the smoking age to 21 in Nashua, a local alderman who also serves as a state representative vowed to introduce a bill to the House of Representatives later this year to address the issue on a statewide level.
“I want our state legislators to step up and I am going to be the first in line. I will be putting a bill through in September,” Rep. Patricia Klee said of raising the smoking age from 18 to 21.
While a previous New Hampshire Senate bill attempting to raise the smoking age was defeated, this year a similar Senate bill has been retained and will be taken up in the fall and voted on in January, according to Klee.
However, Klee said this week that she does not want any loopholes, and will introduce a House bill as well in case the Senate bill isn’t successful.
Despite her strong support for raising the smoking age statewide, Klee told aldermen she would not support a current proposal being debated by city officials to raise the smoking age in the Gate City.
“On the state level, I will be first in line to vote for this. On the city level, I have a real issue with it,” said an emotional Klee. “... I have buried more people from cancer — tobacco related. I hate this, but I will not vote for and put a bubble in Nashua. So putting my personal feelings aside, I won’t be able to do it.”
As communities and states throughout the nation continue to raise the smoking age, Walmart announced this week that starting on July 1, it will no longer be selling tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, according to The Washington Post; Walgreens and CVS have already taken similar steps.
If the proposed ordinance is adopted in Nashua — which seeks to raise the age from 18 to 21 to purchase, use and possess tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine — Klee said it will not curtail youth from smoking since they will be able to obtain or smoke cigarettes in nearby communities.
This week, an aldermanic committee was divided on the city proposal to raise the smoking age. It voted to send the proposal to the full Board of Aldermen without any formal recommendation in favor or in opposition.
If approved, a first offense carries a $50 fine, with subsequent offenses carrying a fine of up to $100, according to the proposal.
Attempts were made to amend some of the provisions within the proposed city ordinance, including removing the fines, grandfathering in residents who are already 19 and allowing Nashua businesses to sell tobacco products from Nashua to other jurisdictions that permit 18-year-olds to smoke.
Alderman Ben Clemons said the amendments would be a good compromise, but that none of those amendments were implemented into the proposal.
“I think that you are watering it down to the point where it isn’t going to have any teeth,” Alderman Richard Dowd said of the amendments, adding this matter should really be addressed at the state level.
“I don’t think this is an issue we can wait for the state to do,” said Alderman Tom Lopez, adding nicotine addiction is a public health epidemic.
Several aldermen say the city should be helping youth with addiction problems, not fining those individuals — specifically those with lower socioeconomic status.
“It is trampling on people’s rights,” Clemons said.