MONTPELIER — The latest legislative attempt to raise Vermont’s smoking age from 18 to 21 has been put in writing, introduced and advocates are hoping it will finally cross the finish line.
It hasn’t yet, and it’s not for lack of trying.
Rep. George Till, D-Jericho is the lead sponsor of the latest bill — his fifth since 2014 — that proposes the age for purchasing and possessing tobacco, tobacco substitutes and tobacco paraphernalia increase from 18 to 21.
Till has authored several similar proposals, including one that passed the House in 2016 only to be narrowly rejected, 16-13, in the Senate the following year.
Till’s bills have enjoyed the support of a parade of co-sponsors over the years, and while their content has varied some, the primary objective has always been to increase Vermont’s smoking age to 21.
That was true in 2014, when Till introduced legislation that included an exemption for those serving in the military, and it was true last year when one of two bills he introduced on the topic would have given towns the authority to enact local ordinances prohibiting the use of tobacco by those under 21.
The latest version of the bill makes the same data-driven case for the change.
The bill cites a 2015 National Academy of Medicine report that found “… increasing the minimum age of legal access to tobacco products from 18 to 21 … would reduce the rate of tobacco use by 12 percent and decrease smoking-related deaths by 10 percent.”
Those aren’t small numbers in a country where statistics suggest 1,200 people a day die as a result of smoking or in a state where an estimated 10,000 children now under 18 will die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses.
The bill also claims that those between 18 and 20 years of age are responsible for purchasing 90 percent of the cigarettes bought on behalf of minors who can’t legally purchase or possess them.
The bill, which was read for the first time on Tuesday and referred to the Human Services Committee, creates an exemption for Vermonters who turn 18 before July 1.
Though the bill, if passed and signed into law, would change the smoking age, it would not change any existing penalties for those who aren’t of legal age purchasing or possessing tobacco or tobacco-related products in Vermont. The same is true of those caught selling or furnishing those products to people who aren’t legally old enough to have them.