The Louisiana Legislature has proposed a bill to raise the age of legal tobacco use from 18 to 21 years old.

If House Bill 240 passes in the 2008 Regular Session, it will be illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to buy or possess any tobacco products.

Walker Hines, D-New Orleans, said he proposed House Bill 240 to reduce health care costs for the state and prolong the lives of Louisiana residents.

Louisiana would be the first state to change the age to 21 if the bill passes.

According to the Louisiana Office of Public Health,smokers represent 25 percent of the state's population. The economic expense associated with tobacco, costs the state approximately $1.46 billion a year, and tobacco use causes one in five deaths in the state.

Hines said the legislation will not be retroactive. People who are already 18 years old will not be affected by the law.

He added, "This is not meant to scold current smokers. It is to prevent new smokers."

Hines said he kept the same wording and fines as the current law, but changed the age from 18 to 21. Eventually, he hopes to increase fines for underage tobacco use.

Buying tobacco when underage is subject to a $50 for the first offense, up to $100 for the second offense, up to $250 for the third offense and up to $400 for any subsequent offense.

Hines said, "This is not a cure all. It is the first step in fixing a long-term problem. This legislation is not targeting smokers, it's targeting their children and grandchildren."


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