LINCOLN — An Omaha senator wants Nebraskans to celebrate at least three additional birthdays before they can legally use tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Legislative Bill 73 would raise the age for smoking, chewing or vaping to 21 from the current minimum of 18. The bill was introduced Thursday in the Nebraska Legislature by State Sen. Merv Riepe, the new Health and Human Services Committee chairman.

Possession of tobacco by an underage person would be a misdemeanor offense with a maximum fine of $100.

Those caught selling tobacco products to customers under 21 would be guilty of a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of three months in jail and a $500 fine.

Riepe, a retired hospital administrator from Ralston, said the move to age 21 could prevent youth from starting smoking.

He said the change would make it easier for retailers because the ages for buying alcohol and tobacco would match. Nebraska driver’s licenses are oriented vertically, instead of horizontally, until a person turns 21.

Riepe said his goal is to help address a serious public health issue in a way that doesn’t increase taxes, like last year’s attempt to raise the tobacco tax.

About 7 percent of middle school students and 25 percent of high school students have used some kind of tobacco product, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2015.

“Young people need to get started on the right track,” Riepe said.

If the bill is approved, Nebraska would join California and Hawaii, he said.

Joe Duggan works in The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where he helps cover state government, the Legislature, the state Supreme Court, southeast Nebraska and Lincoln. Follow him on Twitter @JoeDugganOWH. Phone: 402-473-9587

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