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Vermont poised to raise smoking age to 21

May 1, 2019

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont is close to joining a dozen other states that have raised or are raising the smoking age to 21.

The state Senate agreed with a House amendment on Tuesday that would have the change go into effect Sept. 1. Republican Gov. Phil Scott has said he expects to sign the bill pending a review, his spokeswoman, Rebecca Kelley, said.

The measure also increases the legal age to 21 for buying and using electronic cigarettes, which have jumped in use among high school and middle school students.

“We know that the age of 21 is going to prevent addiction going forward. A whole generation can be protected, generations to come,” Democratic state Sen. Ginny Lyons said Wednesday.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 12 states have raised the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 with the change so far in effect in seven states.

Vermont legislators tried to raise the smoking age in recent years, but critics saw it as violating an individual’s right to smoke and did not understand the need to keep young people from accessing cigarettes from kids who are slightly older, said Lyons, a sponsor of the legislation.

“This year we put in as a bill and really made an effort to talk about the importance of this in preventing addiction overall so it was a real key point for prevention,” she said.

The spread of underage use of electronic cigarettes, also played a role, she said.

Studies show that people who begin vaping are more likely to switch to smoking, said Jennifer Costa of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

“We also know that 95 percent of smokers start before the age of 21. That’s why raising the sale age can really make a difference,” she said in a written statement.

The Senate also passed a House bill on Wednesday that restricts internet sales of electronic cigarettes, liquid nicotine and tobacco paraphernalia in Vermont.