Scott Signs Bill Hiking Legal Smoking Age to 21 | Off Message

Scott Signs Bill Hiking Legal Smoking Age to 21


  • Luke Eastman
Gov. Phil Scott has signed into law a bill that will raise the legal age to purchase tobacco or e-cigarettes in Vermont from 18 to 21 — capping years of lobbying by health advocates.

The governor signed S.86 on Thursday, to the delight of groups such as the American Heart Association. Because most smokers pick up the harmful and addictive habit before they are 21, fewer people will start, health advocates reason.

The law takes effect September 1, 2019.

Similar legislation failed in 2016 and 2017. This year, lawmakers cited concerns about young people being exposed to more and more products.

"E-cigarettes, vaping, Juuling are taking over," Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden), a sponsor of the bill, warned in February. Flavored smokes appeal to kids, she added, and raising the legal age to 21 would make it harder for teens to get around age restrictions.

E-cigs have "infested our school community," Montia Peart, an Essex High School senior, told Seven Days earlier this year.
Montpelier High School senior Willem Slade said the Juuls were everywhere at school and the e-cigarette brand had become part of the teen lexicon. "Juuling in the bathroom, any free time you have; in the back of class because they're so easy to conceal," he said.

Rep. George Till (D-Jericho), a physician who has long advocated for the change, said he had little support several years ago. But the notion of upping the age to 21 had been incrementally gaining ground each year. In an interview Friday, he said the U.S. Surgeon General's warning late last year of a teen youth vaping "epidemic" proved influential.

"It got people's attention," Till said. "Not only did [the bill] pass, but it passed by huge margins this year."

Scott also signed H.26 on Thursday, which bans the internet sales of e-cigs. And he has previously indicated he'd support another measure lawmakers have sent to his desk, H.47, which would tax vaping products at the same rate as tobacco.