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Pennsylvania Restricted Tobacco Sales. Some Tobacco Control Groups Are Still Uneasy.

Gerald Herbert

A newly-enacted law is making the commonwealth one of 19 states with higher legal tobacco purchase ages.

However, Pennsylvania’s version also includes a contentious carveout. Eighteen to 20-year-olds will still be allowed to buy tobacco in the state if they are active-duty service members or honorably discharged veterans.

That provision was a late-in-the-game addition to the bill, and it drew ire from anti-smoking advocates.

The commonwealth’s chapter of the American Lung Association said it “severely weakens” the measure and fails to protect younger military personnel from getting hooked on tobacco.

Republican state Representative Greg Rothman, of Cumberland County, sponsored the House version of the bill, and said the military exemption was tacked on in an effort to win votes from the libertarian wing of his party.

“I mean, there always has to be compromise,” he said. “You’ve got to figure out a way to get something to pass.”

Rothman added, he doesn’t see the measure in terms of protection.

“The point is about judgement,” he said. “So, if you can show me another class of people who have demonstrated that they possess the judgement to make the right decisions before they turn 21, then we can add them to it as well.”

Several other states also include a military carveout in their Tobacco 21 laws.

According to the American Cancer Society, smoking rates are higher among military personnel than civilians.

The group noted in a 2014 report that the Department of Defense has estimated around 175,000 current active duty service members will die from smoking unless they can quit.