Rais­ing age to buy to­bacco moves ahead

The News-Times - - BUSINESS - By Jack Kramer

HART­FORD — A bill that will in­crease from 18 to 21 the min­i­mum age to pur­chase to­bacco prod­ucts and e-cig­a­rettes passed the House by a 124 to 22 vote on Thurs­day.

The bill now heads to the Sen­ate.

A num­ber of Con­necti­cut cities and towns — in­clud­ing Hart­ford, Bridge­port, South Wind­sor, Southing­ton, Walling­ford, Trum­bull and Mil­ford — that have al­ready passed their own or­di­nances to raise the age.

“This is one of the more im­por­tant bills we will con­sider this year,” Rep. Jonathan Stein­berg, DWest­port, co-chair of Pub­lic Health Com­mit­tee, said. “The (U.S) Sur­geon Gen­eral has de­ter­mined that va­p­ing is a na­tional epi­demic.”

One re­cent re­port has given ad­vo­cates added mo­men­tum — a Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health 2017 Youth To­bacco Sur­vey in­di­cated e-cig­a­rette use among Con­necti­cut high school stu­dents has more than dou­bled from 7.2 per­cent us­ing in 2015 to 14.7 per­cent us­ing in 2017.

Stein­berg said the va­p­ing epi­demic is hav­ing an “im­pact on our schools. We raid bath­rooms to catch il­le­gal va­p­ing, in­stalling de­tec­tors.” The va­p­ing that goes on in schools, Stein­berg said, is “dis­tract­ing schools from their core mis­sion, which is to ed­u­ca­tion young peo­ple.”

The bill was amended from its orig­i­nal ver­sion to ex­clude a ban on fla­vored va­p­ing.

Stein­berg said that de­ci­sion was made be­cause there’s an ex­pec­ta­tion that there will be ac­tion at the fed­eral level.

If not, Stein­berg said, the Pub­lic Health Com­mit­tee would take up the is­sue again next year.

Rep. Matt Blu­men­thal, D-Stam­ford, told his col­leagues that he felt a “small bit of dis­ap­point­ment that we aren’t go­ing af­ter the (va­p­ing) fla­vors.” But he quickly added that he was glad to hear that the state will take on the is­sue — next year — if the fed­eral gov­ern­ment doesn’t act.

Rep. Ni­cole Klar­idesDi­tria, R-Derby, asked Stein­berg if funds raised in the bill meant to be spent on to­bacco ces­sa­tion pro­grams “will be safe from raid­ing from the Gen­eral Assem­bly.”

Stein­berg an­swered: “It is cer­tainly our in­tent; we will make ev­ery ef­fort that we do not suc­cumb to temp­ta­tion (to raid the fund). I can­not guar­an­tee that,” Stein­berg said.

Con­necti­cut is one of the few states in the en­tire coun­try that cur­rently spends zero money taken in from the cig­a­rette tax it takes in on to­bacco ces­sa­tion pro­grams. It has con­tin­u­ally re­ceived “F” grades from the Amer­i­can Cancer So­ci­ety for that prac­tice.

Gov. Ned La­mont pro­posed rais­ing the age as part of his first two-year bud­get and says he will sign the bill if it passes the Sen­ate.

The bill raises, from 18 to 21, the le­gal age to pur­chase cig­a­rettes, other to­bacco prod­ucts and e-cig­a­rettes (i.e., elec­tronic nico­tine de­liv­ery sys­tems and va­por prod­ucts). The bill im­poses a $300 fine on a re­tailer who sells a to­bacco prod­uct to any­one un­der age 21, in­creases, from $50 to $200, the an­nual li­cense fee for cig­a­rette deal­ers; and in­creases from $400 to $800 the an­nual reg­is­tra­tion fee for e-cig­a­rette de­laters.

The bill re­sults in es­ti­mated state rev­enue losses of $4.9 mil­lion next year and $6.3 mil­lion in 2021. The bill raises fees and fines, which are an­tic­i­pated to in­crease state rev­enues by $1.2 mil­lion and will off­set ad­di­tional reg­u­la­tory costs in­curred by the state de­part­ments of Rev­enue Ser­vices and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion.

La­mont praised the House for pass­ing the bill.

“With the ris­ing use of e-cig­a­rettes and va­p­ing prod­ucts among young peo­ple, we are see­ing a grow­ing pub­lic health cri­sis,” La­mont said in a state­ment af­ter the vote. “Some have pointed out that rais­ing the age to 21 will re­sult in a net rev­enue loss to the state, but when it comes to the health of our young peo­ple we need to do what is right.”

Rep. Wil­liam Pe­tit, RPlainvill­e, asked Stein­berg how the bill ad­dresses the is­sue of reg­u­lat­ing of to­bacco prod­ucts bought over the in­ter­net.

“We know this is a sig­nif­i­cant is­sue,” Stein­berg said. He said the bill ad­dresses the is­sue by man­dat­ing that some­one over the age of 21 signs for to­bacco prod­ucts that are sent to a home.

“We are try­ing to en­sure some young per­son isn’t try­ing to end run the sys­tem,” Stein­berg said.

Pe­tit quizzed Stein­berg on what the im­pact of los­ing younger cus­tomers will mean to re­tail­ers in the state.

“We do ex­pect there will be some im­pact on re­tail­ers,” Stein­berg said.

Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives ap­proved a bill that now goes to the Sen­ate to raise Con­necti­cut’s min­i­mum age to pur­chase to­bacco prod­ucts to 21.

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