Indiana lawmakers backing tougher tobacco sales penalties

Tougher penalties for Indiana stores caught selling smoking or vaping products to anyone younger than 21 are on their way to becoming law.

The Indiana Senate voted 38-9 Thursday in favor of a proposal that would triple possible retailer fines to between $600 and $3,000 based on number of violations in a six-month period.

House members on Tuesday approved a separate bill with different retailer penalties that also includes increasing Indiana’s minimum age for smoking and vaping from 18 to 21 to conform with a new federal law.

The House and Senate will need to reach agreement on a single version in the coming weeks of the legislative session, but Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb supports the tougher penalties.

Sen. Phil Buck, R-Crawfordsville, said he had partial ownership of some convenience stores and that he opposed raising the retailer penalties so much when those businesses depend on the judgment of young clerks on whether to sell tobacco products to customers.

But Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, the bill sponsor, said those retailer penalties haven’t been increased since 2008 and that the state needed to show it was taking enforcement seriously.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville said with the House and Senate votes this week he was “very confident” that tougher penalties will ultimately win approval.

“Whether they are increased by a small amount or doubled or tripled will continue to be something we discuss,” Bray said.

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