BISMARCK — North Dakota senators overwhelmingly rejected a bid to increase penalties for selling cigarettes to minors Wednesday, April 3, but they salvaged legislation targeting underage sales of flavored liquids for electronic smoking devices.
Lawmakers worried about coming down too hard on people who give minors a variety of tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco. An amendment added to House Bill 1477 would have bumped up that penalty from an infraction to a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a maximum of 30 days in prison and a $1,500 fine.
Minot Republican Sen. Oley Larsen said the proposal ran counter to efforts to reduce marijuana penalties that have been floated in the Legislature.
"That makes no sense to me that we're going to ... give somebody a Class B misdemeanor while I'm bagging groceries and mistakenly give somebody who looks 18 some cigarettes," he said.
Sen. John Grabinger, D-Jamestown, said the change would prompt law enforcement to take the issue more seriously.
Senators ultimately split the bill and defeated the section upping penalties for underage tobacco sales in a 37-10 vote. They then easily passed the previous version of the bill aimed at preventing sales of flavored liquids for electronic smoking devices to minors.
North Dakota high school cigarette smoking rates sat at 12.6 percent in 2017, according to the state Department of Health, compared to around 20 percent for e-cigarettes.
State law already bars underage sales of e-cigarettes, but the bill imposes a $500 fine for selling each individual package of flavored "e-liquid product" or electronic smoking device containing the liquid to minors. That penalty exempts manufacturers of the products.
The bill, sponsored by Wahpeton Democratic Rep. Alisa Mitskog, is now on its way to Gov. Doug Burgum.
Mitskog's original bill would have gone further and put a blanket prohibition on any sale of flavored e-liquid, but she hoped the federal government would continue pressing the issue. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced proposals last month seeking to curb youth access to flavored products, according to The Washington Post.