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Oregon's new smoking age will be 21 years old

(KATU Photo)

Oregon is set to join California and Hawaii as the only states in the country to prohibit the purchase of tobacco products for people under the age of 21.

"This is really important because we know 95 percent of lifetime smokers start before age 21 and by removing tobacco from peer groups in high schools, we’re ensuring that young people have a lesser likelihood of knowing someone over the age of 21, and will be less likely to pick up the deadly habit to begin with," said Christopher Friend, government relations director with the American Cancer Society.

SB 754 passed the Oregon House by a 39-to-20 vote Thursday. It passed the Senate in March, and applies to cigarettes, e-cigarettes and tobacco products.

Advocates claim the bill will help protect kids from addiction and help save taxpayers some of the more than $1.5 billion in annual health care costs related to tobacco.

"Few people know that there's a tax burden on you and I even if we're not smokers to the tune of about $700 per year per taxpayer in Oregon, so there's an economic burden for those of who aren't smokers," Friend said.

The bill was amended so that minors are not penalized for being in possession of cigarettes; instead, it's aimed at stopping them from buying tobacco in the first place.

"Our coalition’s perspective is we never wanted the onus of enforcement on this bill to be on young people. We wanted to make sure that the retailers are playing by the rules and being good actors. We never want to penalize a young person who’s addicted to a deadly substance, we want to get them the help that they need," Friend said.

But not everyone is convinced the bill will prevent kids from buying cigarettes.

"I think regulating it more is just going to make people want to go out and seek it more," said Rachel Taylor. "I just don’t know if that’s the right way to go about it. I don’t really have an answer as far as what you should do, but personally, I don’t know if that’s going to solve the problem."

The new bill will go into effect as soon as Gov. Kate Brown signs it.

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