Smoking age increase added to New Hampshire budget

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A last-minute addition to the state budget could raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products in New Hampshire to 21.

A bill to increase the purchase age to 21 stalled in the Senate back in February. But much of its language resurfaced in the budget that will be voted on by the full Legislature on Thursday. Barring a veto by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, New Hampshire would become the 17th state to make such a move, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Several New Hampshire communities, including Dover, Keene and Newmarket, already have enacted so-called Tobacco 21 ordinances. Rep. Michael Cahill, D-Newmarket, testified in favor of the original bill and expressed disappointment it was shelved.

“This is an epidemic,” he said. “So, we have an opportunity to try to protect the next generation.”

Retailers like Victor Vitale, who sells vaping devices in Hudson, criticized the budget committee for resurrecting the bill.

“The fact that it was thrown in at the eleventh hour without having a hearing is a reckless and egregious abuse of authority,” said Vitale, who testified against the original bill on behalf of the New Hampshire Vapers Association. He said young adults who are over 18, but not yet 21, should have a say in the decision.

It’s unclear how such a change would affect the state’s economy. Jon Shaer, executive director of an industry group representing hundreds of New Hampshire’s convenience stores, said he would not take a position on the bill but urged lawmakers to take the fiscal impact into account.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said 16 other states have bumped the smoking age to 21.

Those include New England states such as Vermont and Maine. Vermont’s new law takes effect Sept. 1. Maine’s law took effect last July after the Legislature overrode a veto by then-Gov. Paul LePage.