By Andrew Seidman
Gov. Christie on Friday signed into law legislation that raises the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products and electronic cigarettes in New Jersey from 19 to 21.
Vendors licensed to sell tobacco products would be subject to fines of up to $1,000 for violating the law.
Christie, a Republican, has made anti-addiction initiatives a priority of his two terms in office.
"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," Christie said in a statement.
"My mother died from the effects of smoking, and no one should lose their life due to any addictive substance," he said. "Additionally, the less people who develop costly tobacco habits that can cause health problems, such as lung cancer, heart disease, and developmental issues, the less strain there will be on our health-care system."
About 12 percent of New Jersey adults between ages 18 and 24 smoke, according to the most recent data compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 11,800 adults die annually in the Garden State as a result of smoking, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The nonprofit group says the state's annual health-care costs from smoking exceed $4 billion.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature passed the measure along mostly party lines, with most Republicans opposed.
"Making it harder to buy cigarettes by raising the age to legally purchase them in New Jersey will help prevent our youth from becoming lifelong smokers and suffering the long-term effects of the habit," said Sen. Joe Vitale (D., Middlesex), a bill sponsor.
The law takes effect in November. New Jersey joins Hawaii and California as states that have raised the smoking-purchase age to 21, according to lawmakers in Trenton.
Christie last year vetoed legislation that would have banned smoking on beaches and parks, saying municipalities and counties should make those decisions.
Separately, on Friday, Christie conditionally vetoed legislation that would dedicate 1 percent of cigarette tax revenues to anti-smoking initiatives, saying the funding offset would hurt the budget.
However, he returned the bill to the Legislature and recommended that the bill take effect in one year, not immediately.
He noted that New Jersey has the third-lowest rate of tobacco use in the nation.