By Rep. Marybeth Redmond
In the coming week, the Vermont House will vote on S.86, an act to raise the legal age for buying and using cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, and other tobacco products from 18 to 21 years of age. Thirteen states have already enacted Tobacco 21 legislation (or are in the process of doing so), including Maine, Massachusetts and New York.
S.86 is part of a three-pronged strategy this legislative session to make it more difficult for youth with sensitive, still-developing brains to obtain and afford tobacco products. Earlier in the session, Representatives overwhelmingly approved H.26, ending Internet sales of e-cigarettes, and H.47, placing a large excise tax on them. (These two bills are being considered by the Senate now.)
We know that 95 percent of cigarette smokers begin smoking before the age of 21; and it’s well-established that nicotine is a highly addictive substance. The U.S. Surgeon General predicts that in Vermont alone, 10,000 youth alive today will die prematurely of tobacco-related illnesses if we fail to change course.
Despite trendlines of decreasing tobacco use in recent decades, the presence of vaping and e-cigarettes has created a new crisis point. From 2017– 2018, e-cigarette use among high school and middle school students rose 78% and 48%, respectively. That amounted to the biggest one-year spike of any substance in nearly 50 years and prompted the U.S. Surgeon General to declare a public health crisis.
A nurse at Essex High School recently confirmed how widespread vaping is: “these products are being used by athletes, high-flyers, and generally across all demographic and achievement lines. Students as young as 14 in my school admit to using JUUL (a specific brand) and continue to believe it is not harmful.”
Our Human Services Committee has received hours of testimony from school administrators and educators across the state about students in nicotine withdrawal, parents unaware of their child’s dependency, violence related to vaping sales gone awry, disruptions to the learning environment, and endless hours spent dealing with the disciplinary implications.
I have heard from a few Essex constituents concerned about the possible taxing impacts on e-cigarettes, which they claim are safer than traditional cigarettes. Though e-cigs do not contain the carcinogens that combustible cigarettes do, they are chock full of heavy metals toxic to humans, and of course contain nicotine. Finally, long-term data demonstrating that vaping is a “healthier alternative” to traditional cigarette smoking does not exist.
Even our newly appointed Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard supports an increase to age 21 for tobacco use and purchase, saying: “Being a member of the National Guard requires a level of health and fitness that is potentially impacted by smoking.”
I am ever-grateful to be your ambassador in Montpelier. Please be in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802.488.0531 if I can be helpful to you.