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Vermont House Moves Proposed Smoking Age Increase To Senate

Young smokers
Valentin Ottone/Flickr

After two days of floor debate, the Vermont House has sent a bill to the Senate that would raise the smoking age.
House bill 93 would increase the age for buying tobacco products in Vermont from 18 to 21.  An amendment exempts members of the military.  Backers of that provision argue 18 is the legal age for most adult activity and military members have earned full rights of adulthood.

The bill would phase in the age limit. It would go from 18 to 19 in January and increase one year in age each of the following two years.  

American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont Chapter Executive Director Stephanie Winters is excited about the prospect of raising the smoking age, but disappointed that there is a military exemption.   “Ninety percent of adults who smoke started by the age of 21.  So I think when you look at all of the numbers we’ll be able to affect a lot of people I think.  An Institute of Medicine report from 2015 they found that raising the age to 21 reduces the smoking rate over time by 12 percent.  So that’s a lot.  12 percent is a lot of smokers. So I think we could certainly make a big change.”

Not surprisingly, American Lung Association of Vermont Senior Director of Health Education and Public Policy Rebecca Ryan is also happy to see the bill pass.   “In the long run it will mean that teenagers that are still in high school will have fewer social sources to access tobacco products. You know a lot of students in high school are 18, 19 years old and they hang out with younger teenagers. So this would reduce the likelihood that those young teenagers would be able to get cigarettes from their older friends. We know in Vermont that 39 percent of smokers under the age of 18 for example borrowed or bummed cigarettes.  And that’s from the 2015 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey.”

The bill also imposes a higher tax on tobacco products.  It will also be phased in at 13 cents per year for three years.

Vermont Retail and Grocers’ Association President Jim Harrison would prefer the smoking issues be addressed on a regional basis.    “The state has estimated that there would be somewhere between a 3 and 4 million dollar tax loss.  So what we took a little bit of issue with is once again trying to increase that tax by a significant margin and at the end of the day it just becomes diminishing returns and we just send more customers out of state.  So I have some real concerns about the tax but less so about the age.  If we’re going to increase the age then do it on a regional basis so that you don’t have border issues and raising the tax just shifts where people shop, not whether they smoke or not.”

The fate of the legislation is uncertain in the Senate because it did not meet the Legislature’s crossover deadline. The Senate President Pro Tem and the committee of jurisdiction must suspend the rules to allow further consideration.

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