On an 84 to 61 vote, the Vermont House of Representatives passed a bill that would incrementally increase the age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products from the current age of 18, to 21, by the year 2019.
Supporters argued in the long run, delaying the start of smoking for some would save lives and health care costs.
"While passing this law will not totally eliminate underage use, it will help shine a light for how to get to a place where smoking is not cool or socially acceptable in any age group," Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney, said on the House floor before Tuesday afternoon's vote.
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Regarding debate over how the change would impact military personnel, who could join the armed forces but not legally buy cigarettes in Vermont, Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, D-Montpelier, argued, "If we think they're old enough to die in service for their country, how can we deny them the right to have a cigarette?"
Lawmakers discussed estimates showing the state could forfeit $900,000 a year in tax revenues from lost sales. A new cigarette tax was floated, both to make up the difference and provide yet another deterrent to smoking.
"This is a self-imposed tax," said Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster. "If you don't want to pay the tax, don't smoke."
"This is not a health bill, but just another tax," countered Rep. Ron Hubert, R-Milton. "And an anti-business bill. This is just another money grab."
The bill is set for a final vote in the House Wednesday.
According to his deputy chief of staff, Scott Coriell, Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, does not support raising the smoking age. Shumlin certainly thinks it's a bad idea to start smoking, Coriell told necn, but believes since 18-year-olds can already make many decisions for themselves, like voting in elections and joining the military, the proposal may run counter to those rights.