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Vermont Senate Rebuffs Attempt to Raise Smoking Age

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Sen. Debbie Ingram speaks earlier this month in favor of raising the legal smoking age to 21. - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • File: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Sen. Debbie Ingram speaks earlier this month in favor of raising the legal smoking age to 21.
The Vermont Senate on Tuesday shot down a last-ditch attempt to raise the state’s smoking age from 18 to 21.

The bill was set aside earlier this month to give supporters time to round up enough ‘yes’ votes. But when it returned to the floor Tuesday, it was defeated by a vote of 13 to 16.

In an unsuccessful attempt to make the bill more palatable, its sponsor, Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden), proposed an amendment that would have eliminated penalties on underage smokers found with tobacco in their possession.

Senators remained reticent, voicing concerns about dictating Vermonters’ decisions, particularly those old enough to serve in the military.

At least one opponent did have a change of heart: Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), who said she’d realized over the weekend that her opposition to the bill was inconsistent with her positions on related issues. She and a majority of the Senate, she noted, approved a marijuana legalization bill that would keep the drug illegal for those under 21. Alcohol, of course, remains illegal for those in that age group.

“I would posit that of the three products, probably tobacco is the worse product of all,” she said.

White told her colleagues that her about-face was also personal.

“My dad died from emphysema,” she said. “My husband had quadruple bypass surgery a couple years ago that [medical providers] related primarily to his lifelong smoking habit, and right now my sister is in the hospital with stage 4 [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]. They all started smoking as 14 or 15 year olds. So when I was visiting my sister in the hospital yesterday I told her that I was reconsidering my vote and all she said was, ‘thank you.’”

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