Gov. Chris Christie has effectively vetoed legislation that would have raised New Jersey’s smoking age from 19 to 21.

NJ is inching closer to raising the age to purchase tobacco products. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The governor did not take any action on the measure – known as a pocket veto – which means it will not take effect.

The bill had called for fines for retailers of up to $1,000 for selling tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21.

Karen Blumenfeld, the executive director of NJ Gasp  - which stands for Global Advisors on Smoke free Policy - said she was very disappointed to hear the news.

“We know 90 percent of all people start smoking before age 21 and so it’s imperative to reduce access to these products to young people so that they don’t start to use tobacco,” she said.

According to Blumenfeld, smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease and death in this country, so policy-makers who are in a position to make sure people don’t have access to these products should take that action.

“The veto is disappointing, especially in light of the fact that there was overwhelming support by the Senate and Assembly for this bill,” she said.

“If policymakers can eliminate access of tobacco products to young people and young adults, therefore it’s less likely they will be starting to smoke,” she said. “It’s much less likely that they will start smoking and therefore live their lives tobacco free and hence be healthier,” Blumenfeld added.

She said 15 New Jersey towns have already raised the tobacco age to 21 on their own, adding that municipal can go to, to learn more about these local ordinances.

Ethan Hasbrouck, the NJ government relations director at the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, agreed the governor’s veto was very disappointing.

“Tobacco is the nation’s number one preventable cause of premature death and disease, it kills more than 11,000 -  800 in New Jersey alone,” he said. “The vast majority of smokers do get hooked before they reach the age of 21 and each year over 24,000 kids in New Jersey try cigarettes for the first time, while an additional 5,400 kids will become new regular daily smokers. It’s critically important to prevent kids and young adults from picking up the habit.”

He also said the tobacco industry specifically targets young people because they’re an easier mark when they’re still in their teens.

“They spend $9.6 billion each year, more than $1 million every hour to market their deadly products,” he said. “In New Jersey alone we’re talking about more than $185 million annually.”

He also said it’s been 50 years since the first Surgeon General’s report linking smoking to cancer and “significant progress has been made in reducing smoking since then, but there’s still a lot of work to be done in reducing the death and disease from tobacco use.”

Hasbrouck said a few years ago, the Institute of Medicine, one of the top scientific authorities in the United States, issued a 336-page report that concluded raising the tobacco sales age to 21 would reduce the smoking rate by about 12 percent and smoking related deaths by about 10 percent.

So far only the state of Hawaii has raised the smoking age to 21.

The New Jersey Food Council had opposed raising the smoking age to 21, arguing people who buy cigarettes frequently also buy a sandwich or a cup of coffee. A request for comment from the group did not receive a response.