Indiana panel backs higher fines for underaged tobacco sales

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The push to toughen Indiana’s penalties on stores for selling tobacco products to underage customers is facing some questions over whether the proposed fines are too steep.

Members of state Senate’s health committee voted 11-0 Wednesday to endorse the bill that includes raising the minimum age for smoking and vaping from 18 to 21 to conform with the new federal law.

State Health Commissioner Kristina Box told committee members that 95% of smokers started before they were 21 and that vaping among teenagers is a growing public health problem. Box said raising the smoking age and tougher penalties on retailers was the “logical next step” to help prevent more people from picking up habits.

The Senate proposal would triple possible retailer fines to between $600 and $3,000 based on number of violations in a six-month period. Some committee members questioned raising the fines so much, so those might be lowered when the full Senate takes up the bill.

Nick Torres, a leader of the Tobacco Free Indiana coalition, said state excise police are only conducting spot checks once a year at most stores and encouraged a longer period for those fines to escalate.

“The penalties are not having much effect on the bad actors who are continuing to sell these products,” Torres said.

A House committee approved a similar bill last week that is awaiting action by the full House.

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