INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers voted Wednesday to triple the fines for selling tobacco and vaping products to underage Hoosiers.
Senate Bill 1 also would mirror a new federal law limiting purchases to those 21 and older; current state law says 18.
“Our members are deeply concerned about the impact of tobacco use and vaping on the current and future workforce,” said Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “This will help prevent tens of thousands of Hoosiers from going down the lifelong path of smoking.”
The legislation passed the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee unanimously and now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
Since the federal government acted to change law at the end of 2019 on the age, some are wondering why Indiana has to follow suit.
Testimony on Tuesday showed that much of the enforcement is up to the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission so it is important to align state law.
Joe Lackey, president of the Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association, also said Indiana goes further than the federal statute and makes illegal the mere possession of the products under 21 – not just the sale.
He suggested one change – that state legislators require carding of everyone buying the product regardless of age.
“We're not crazy about the big increase in fines but if we do a good job of carding everyone we'll be able to live with it,” Lackey said.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box testified that Indiana's adult smoking rate is fourth highest in the nation. The state was seeing progress on reducing youth smoking until vaping exploded onto the scene.
She noted that the vast majority of smokers start before the age of 21 so making the product harder to get in the first place helps reduce smoking.
On vaping specifically, she said the nicotine rewires a person's brain and makes them more susceptible to other addictions. Box said a single vaping cartridge can deliver the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.
She also noted that the amount of adults using vaping to wean themselves off regular cigarettes hasn't grown but the amount of recreational use among youths has jumped dramatically.
The Senate Health and Provider Services amended the legislation to triple state fines for retailers that sell to underage Hoosiers, especially those with multiple violations.
Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, repeatedly questioned how high the fines would be, including that they would exceed federal fines. She gave an example of the lowest fine for selling tobacco/vaping products being $300 on the federal level but $600 in Indiana.
Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, agreed the fines are “rather high. But if you are a good actor you won't encounter these fees so there shouldn't be a problem.”
No one spoke against the bill.