South Dakota Proposes Smoking Legislation

South Dakota might become the sixth state to raise the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products. The proposed legislation would raise the legal age from 18 to 21.

The new bill initiated by the American Cancer Society is set to hit the South Dakota Legislature soon accompanied by its sponsor Rep. Leslie Heinemann, R-Flandreau.

Heinemann has been a practicing dentist for 36 years. He said he has a history of taking a “strong stand” against tobacco both in his practice, addressing smoking habits and in his work with the Tobacco-Free Kids Network.

The bill that is set to hit the legislature in Pierre might limit the freedoms of young South Dakotans, but Heinemann said on Tuesday, Jan. 23 that if South Dakotans dug into the facts they would appreciate the new legislation.  

Many studies tend to support this bill and others like it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, “Tobacco use is started and established primarily during adolescence.” Ninety percent of smokers start as minors before the age of 18, and 99 percent try cigarettes by age 26.

Rep. Heinemann shared a statistic that minors who obtain tobacco illegally do so through people aged 18 to 20, 90 percent of the time.

Raising the minimum age to buy tobacco could have benefits for South Dakota. The state spends $373 million in direct health care costs and $282.5 million in lost productivity due to cigarettes, according to the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation.

The Institute of Medicine also released a report that showed raising the minimum age to 21 nationally­ would lead to 223,000 less premature deaths and 50,000 less deaths from lung cancer. This would apply to people born between 2000 and 2019.

Rep. Heinemann foresees some opposition, saying, “Probably the only pushback is from the negative sales of products issue and then people who believe in choice think that you should be able to make that decision once you turn 18.”

The South Dakota State Medical Association is one of the bill’s supporters. The association’s 2018 advocacy agenda includes a push for a 21-year-old minimum age to purchase tobacco.

President Dr. Robert Van Demark of the South Dakota State Medical Association said he would tell people who are on the fence that “when they’re that young, I don’t think they know how to make a good choice for things, so I think if you can delay that opportunity until they’re older, I think they might make a better choice.”

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