Last week, the Alaska Senate voted 14-6 in favor of S.B. 89, a bill that would change the state’s minimum age to purchase and possess tobacco and vaping products from 19- to 21-years-old. If approved, this bill would align Alaska’s state law with the federal standard, which is already 21-years-old. Doing this will allow local law enforcement to enforce the federal Tobacco 21 standard and will ensure Alaska doesn’t lose out on grants and other funds that states can receive for having their tobacco laws in line with the federal standard.
S.B. 89 largely replaces the parts of the existing law that said 19 with 21. It would make it illegal for anyone to sell or give tobacco or vaping products to anyone under the age of 21-years-old. Those caught selling or giving tobacco or vaping products to someone under the age of 21 would be subject to a fine of at least $300. The bill would also introduce fines for those under the age of 21-years-old caught possessing tobacco or vaping products. They would be subject to a fine of no more than $150 and could be subject to a tobacco education program. Interestingly, the law would not apply to a person who is incarcerated at an adult correctional facility.
In December 2019, President Donald Trump signed a large federal spending bill that also included a provision increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18- to 21-years-old at the federal level. While the federal law already exists, its enforcement is restricted to those who sell tobacco products and not the consumers. The vast majority of U.S. states have updated their laws to make them consistent with the federal standard, Alaska is one of the exceptions.
S.B. 89 now moves onto the Alaska House of Representatives.
If passed, the law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.