New Mexico lawmakers amended the proposed Tobacco Products Act on Wednesday, Feb. 12, to make the new regulations friendlier to retailers, including reducing licensing fees and eliminating criminal penalties.
The original bill made selling tobacco to people under 21 a misdemeanor. Bill co-sponsor, Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque), proposed removing penalties for store clerks, saying it’s the business owner, not their minimum wage employee, who should bear that responsibility.
Several committee members pushed back on that idea. “You’re going to throw an owner in jail for a year, but not the clerk who sells it?" asked Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque).
In the end, lawmakers removed all criminal penalties, but kept fines for selling to minors. The original proposal already eliminated penalties for minors who buy tobacco or e-cigarettes. It would also set the legal purchasing age for tobacco products at 21, mirroring a recent change in federal law.
Another debate concerned how much retailers should pay to get licensed. The initial proposal set it at $1,000 a year. Sen. Gregory Baca (R-Belen) wanted the fee lowered to $100, but others argued it should be high enough to deter people from selling products that are known to cause harm.
The bill passed out of committee with a slightly reduced fee of $850 for the initial license to sell tobacco products, plus $500 to renew each year.
Senate Bill 131 now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. A similar bill is advancing in the House.
This story is part of the project: Your N.M. Government. Funding for our legislative coverage is provided, in part, by the Thornburg Foundation, the New Mexico Local News Fund and KUNM listeners like you.