by JERI CHADWELL
Gov. Brian Sandoval has signed into law a bill that will help crack down on underage tobacco users in Nevada.
Beginning in October of this year, Nevada counties will have the option to adopt ordinances that would impose fines on individuals under the age of 18 for the possession or use of tobacco products. Senate Bill 177 was introduced by Senator James Settelmeyer of Minden. The only legislator to vote nay on the measure was Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks.
If enacted, the law will allow county juvenile courts to impose a fine of $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second and $75 for third and subsequent offenses. A third offense may also result in the suspension or delay of issuance of a child’s driver’s license for a period of 30 to 90 days. Counties will also have the option of ordering offenders to attend a tobacco awareness and cessation program.
The FDA reports that everyday in the United States, approximately 3,600 teens try a cigarette for the first time and as many as 900 become regular smokers. Data from a 2010 CDC report shows that the number of underage smokers in the United States has declined over the last two decades; however, as of 2009, as many as 7.3 percent of high school age children were regular smokers.
During a May 1 hearing on SB177, the Assembly Committee on Judiciary heard testimony from Cheryl Bricker of Minden. Bricker told the committee that her friends collected 687 cigarette butts from a smokers’ corner near a local high school.
The ACLU of Nevada stood in opposition to the measure. An April 30 written statement submitted by Nevada ACLU Legislative and Advocacy Director, Vanessa Spinazola, stated that while they understood the good intentions behind it, they believed that the ordinances enacted by SB177 would likely have a disproportionate impact on youth of color.
“Recent statistics from the Clark County Department of Juvenile Justice Services demonstrate that African American youth are cited for offenses at the rate of nearly twice that (28%) of the population of African American youth in Clark County (12%),” Spinazola wrote. “This is not the same case for White youth, who are cited at a lower rate than their representation in the general Clark County population.”
It remains to be seen which counties will elect to enact the law.