A new state law that changes Vermont’s smoking age took effect over the Labor Day holiday weekend.
Similar to rules already on the books in Massachusetts and Maine, consumers now have to be 21 to buy tobacco products or e-cigarettes in Vermont.
“Certainly, it’s added a lot of extra training for our staff,” said Dave Hartnett, the manager of a Jolley convenience store in the New North End of Burlington. “Right now, and in the future, it’ll just be a practice that we’ll be carding everybody who purchases alcohol and cigarettes.”
At that store and others, including Garcia’s Tobacco Shop in Burlington, brand-new signs are letting customers know about the rule change across Vermont as of September 1.
You now have to be at least 21 to buy nicotine and tobacco products in Vermont, including e-cigarettes, with no grandfather clause for today’s 18-, 19-, or 20-year-olds.
Retailers could face fines or license suspensions for selling to someone too young to smoke or vape, according to state tobacco laws. Underage users could get tickets, too, as well as have the products confiscated.
The aim is to target a critical age where addiction often takes hold, and to cut down on 18-year-olds supplying e-cigs and vape products to even younger peers.
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Vermont schools have reported e-cigarette use skyrocketing among teens.
“There’s a menace underneath that,” teenage health advocate Mei Elander of Enosburgh said of vaping—especially of products with flavors appealing to teens—in an interview with necn at the Vermont State House on February 12.
“It’s very harmful to the brain,” another young public health advocate, Apple Maddox, said at that teen advocacy day.
The young people were at the Vermont State House last session pushing for an age change and other rules, which overcame objections from some lawmakers.
Some had argued that at age 18, people are old enough to serve in the military, so should be old enough to smoke.
“A right to make a choice isn’t truly a right to make a choice, unless it includes rights to make bad choices,” argued Rep. Anne Donohue, R-Northfield, on April 23, before the bill passed the House.
Vermont’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Mark Levine, said in a written statement that he predicts the shift to 21, and inclusion of e-cigarettes in the law, will cut smoking rates over time, ultimately saving lives.
“These cyber-cigarettes, with their thousands of flavors, represent a 21st century version of big tobacco’s decades-long push to market and promote their products to youth,” Levine said of e-cigarettes. “Society always races to keep up with technology. This law helps to close the gap in favor of protecting public health.”
The age change also drew praise from the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.
“ACS CAN is concerned that e-cigarette use is creating a new generation of Vermonters who will suffer from a deadly, lifelong addiction to nicotine and tobacco products,” Jennifer Costa, ACS CAN’s Vermont government relations director, said in a statement about the legislation, often known as “Tobacco 21.” “On behalf of all Vermonters, I thank Governor Scott for enacting these life-saving laws.”
The American Lung Association also applauded the move.
"With over 18 percent of Vermont's high school students reporting use of tobacco products, there is no question that the new Tobacco 21 will make a difference in the lives and overall wellness of Vermont’s students,” said Elizabeth Hamlin, who advocates for the American Lung Association’s priorities in Vermont. “It also serves as a reminder to parents and the wider community that all tobacco products can be harmful and carry significant health impacts.”
Vermonters who want help quitting can get support through the Health Department’s program 802 Quits.
Related state laws took effect over the summer that put a heavy 92-percent tax on e-cigarettes and vaping products, as well as banning the sales of those products via the internet to Vermont.