BOISE -- Members of the Tobacco 21 coalition hope a new California law that will raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 will help spur support for a similar movement in Idaho cities and counties.
It's a different approach than California's statewide legislation.
"To get tobacco policy through the state Legislature may not be something we can tackle right away, but we may be approaching local cities to see about ordinances," said Corey Surber, director of state advocacy for Saint Alphonsus and Trinity Health.
She says smoking-caused health costs in Idaho total more than $500 million per year. Experimental use of cigarettes and other tobacco products often starts at a young age, but health experts say the 18- to 21-year-old time frame is when that experimental use typically turns into to regular use and addiction.
"This is the group, clearly, that we need to focus on," Surber said.
That's why Saint Alphonsus and Trinity Health are leading an effort to increase awareness and educate the public about the dangers of tobacco use, especially among young people.
"Our goal is to raise the legal sale age for tobacco products to 21," she said.
Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable disease and premature death in the U.S.
Surber told KTVB the Tobacco 21 coalition plans to approach local governments in Idaho about upping the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21.
She hopes raising awareness about the cause will help gain support from city leaders in Boise, Meridian and Garden City, for example.
"Here in Idaho we are approaching more locally, looking at the Treasure Valley," Surber added.
But critics argue raising the smoking age to 21 won't stop kids from using cigarettes or other tobacco products.
"These kids are going to get them from friends or this and that. Taking them out of their parents' purses or whatever. They're going to get smokes regardless," Hannifin's Cigar Shop owner Stan Minder said.
He says an 18-year-old is capable of making informed decisions about tobacco use and the associated risks.
"You've got kids making decisions to vote for our President at 18. Are they going to up that to 21?" Minder added.
So far, more than 135 cities and counties nationwide as well as the states of California and Hawaii have raised the age for tobacco sales to 21. California's law does not apply to military personnel.