William Gallagher, 54, of Egg Harbor Township, smokes a Marlboro cigarette while waiting for a bus in Atlantic City. Wednesday, January 25, 2017. (Viviana Pernot / Staff Photographer)

Starting Wednesday, anyone younger than 21 years old is no longer able to purchase cigarettes and tobacco products at businesses in New Jersey.

New Jersey is the third state to raise the minimum age for tobacco products in efforts to decrease smoking rates among teens and young adults and eliminate short- and long-term health effects and costs.

“By raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21, we are giving young people more time to develop a maturity and better understanding of how dangerous smoking can be and that it is better to not start smoking in the first place,” Gov. Chris Christie said after he signed the bill into law in July.

About 14.8 percent of adults in New Jersey use tobacco and 8.2 percent of high school students smoke, according to an American Lung Association report. Rates of smoking cigarettes among teens and young adults have been steadily declining for the past five years.

Anyone younger than 21 will no longer be able to buy cigarettes, cigarette paper, chewing tobacco, cigars and electronic smoking devices.

The penalty for businesses, retailers or people who sell tobacco products to teens and underage adults will face a penalties ranging from $fines of 250 to $1,000 for each violation.

Many local smokers have said they started buying cigarettes as teenagers and quickly developed an addiction to nicotine, making the habit hard to break. Although they said they are aware of evidence that smoking can cause illness, disease and death, it is difficult to quit after smoking for so many years.

“Many people start smoking in their teens because of peer pressure or the desire to fit in,” bill co-sponsor Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, said in July. “Most teens feel invincible at that age and can’t fully comprehend the potential for addiction as well as the devastating long-term effects smoking can have on their health.”

Smoking tobacco remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States. The American Lung Association found 11,780 New Jersey residents died from smoking-related health issues between 2005 and 2009.

Taxpayers absorb $4 billion in tobacco-related health expenses every year in New Jersey, according to the association’s most recent report, many of that coming from tobacco-related diseases and illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, breathing issues and more.

New Jersey followed California and Hawaii in raising the smoking age. Maine and Oregon have since passed laws raising their own tobacco age thresholds to 21.

Contact: 609-272-7022 Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

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