During the Burlington City Council’s meeting this week, leaders passed a resolution to place a question on the Town Meeting Day ballot asking voters if the legal age to purchase tobacco products should be raised.
City councilors debated whether Burlington voters should “advise the Governor and members of the Vermont General Assembly to support increasing the age to legally purchase tobacco products in Vermont from 18 to 21 years of age?”
Resolution sponsor Ward 5 Democrat Chip Mason explained that the city is acting following a previous defeat in the state legislature. “It’s a national movement. It’s known as Tobacco 21. This was introduced actually back in 2016. It died in the Senate. Following the defeat of that we followed up with the city attorney only to found out that under our home rule we were not allowed to do that. So hence sort of began the genesis of this.”
During the public comment period University of Vermont Medical Center cardiologist Dr. Prospero Gogo told city leaders that the majority of heart attack patients at the UVM hospital are smokers. “Tobacco is the number one preventable cause of illness in the United States and mortality. The Institute of Medicine predicts that Tobacco 21 will lower smoking rates for 15 to 17 year olds by 25 percent. Tobacco 21 is thought to decrease death in this country within the next 15 years by 10 percent if we can pass it nationwide.”
Several 7th- and 8th-graders from Burlington schools stepped up to urge councilors to put the question before voters. “My name is Zoe Paxton. I’m a seventh grader at Edmunds Middle School. I am here tonight because I want my voice heard on this issue. We should be doing everything we can to help support my peers in making healthy decisions. “
“Um, hello, my name is Ella Mason. I’m an eighth grader at Edmunds Middle School. The tobacco companies continue to relentlessly market their products. So it is critical that Vermont continues its effort to perfect kids from tobacco addiction by raising the legal age of tobacco purchase to 21.”
“Um, hi. My name is Tatiana Byam. I’m a seventh grader at Edmunds Middle School. I’m here tonight because I want to grow up and be healthy. I want to see all the people that I’ve grown up with be healthy too.”
Ward 1 Independent Sharon Bushor opposes the resolution’s age-based sales restrictions. “I can’t support this resolution because if we say that a person at 18 is an adolescent and can’t make a determination like this then we should not say they can be inducted into the service and they can die for each one of us. They’re old enough to legally marry. They can make all sorts of other determinations at the age of 18.
Dr. Gogo had addressed the councilor’s objections in his earlier comments. “We have already legislated other ages of consent or reasons for other things. Twenty-one is the proposal for marijuana. It is the current age for drinking alcohol. Twenty-five is when you can actually pay less insurance rates for your car insurance or become a representative at the federal level for the House of Representatives. Thirty to thirty-five you cannot be President or a Senator under these ages. These are legislated and have been there for a long time. There is a reasonable age limit to raise when you think that someone cannot tolerate a decision maybe to their personal health or to the public health.”
Councilors approved the resolution 9-3 and the question will appear on the March 6, 2018 Town Meeting Day ballot.