Posted: Apr 05, 2016 5:22 PM EST Updated: Apr 05, 2016 6:20 PM EST
MONTPELIER, Vt. – About 20 percent of Vermonters smoke cigarettes. But those younger than 21 could be slowly cut off from the addictive substance.
“Our hope is that this will help move Vermont to a culture with healthier youth, less government spending and a brighter future for our children and theirs,” said Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney.
Proponents argue a three-year phase-in to a 21 or older system will benefit public health and prevent those most in danger of becoming addicted from ever starting smoking.
About 1,000 die in Vermont from smoking-related illnesses each year, and the state spends hundreds of millions on associated health care.
“While passing this law will not totally eliminate underage use, it will help shed a light on how to get to a place where smoking is not cool or socially acceptable in any age group,” Mrowicki said.
Some worry about losing business across the Connecticut River to New Hampshire.
The change would cost the state budget about $1 million a year once fully implemented. To make up the difference, representatives would rely on increased nicotine taxes, covering everything from chewing tobacco to e-cigarettes.
“This tax is not for health reasons, this is just another money grab,” said Rep. Ron Hubert, R-Milton.
“If you don’t want to pay the tax, don’t smoke,” said Rep. David Deen, D-Putney.
The 84-61 vote comes after representatives delayed the debate by nearly a week. The decision divided party members– not along party lines.
Many– including Gov. Peter Shumlin, who opposes the bill– argue adults should be trusted to make their own choices, as they do with other potentially life and death choices. Others worried about regressive taxes.
Smokers in downtown Burlington Tuesday found themselves torn on the issue.
“Should be 18, teach them at a young age responsibility and it shouldn’t be an issue,” smoker Brendon Seeholzer said.
“I have kids and they turned 18, and if they wanted to smoke, they supplied their own, but I wasn’t going to stop them, they should know better,” smoker Gordon Gokey said.
While raising the smoking age has been a burning issue in the House for a few weeks now, both the Senate and governor could quickly extinguish any hope of the bill becoming law