The Vermont House of Representatives gave its third and final affirmative vote on H. 93 today by a tally of 80-63, with six absent, which seeks to gradually raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco and nicotine delivery products as well as tobacco related accessories from 18 to 21, as well as increase the tax on all tobacco products sold in the state.
As is required for a bill to make it out of the House, it must go through three rounds of voting before it can be sent to the state Senate for its approval. Today’s vote was actually the fifth for the bill, as it has gone through several rounds of proposed amendments by the House Ways and Means and Human Services Committees.
The bill would first raise the minimum age to 19 years old on Jan. 1, 2017, then 20-years-old on Jan. 1, 2018. On Jan. 1, 2019, the minimum age would then increase to 21-years-old.
In addition to making it illegal for a person under 21-years-old to purchase tobacco products, it would also make possession a crime, punishable by a $25 fine, which if unpaid within 60 days would result in a suspension of the individual’s driver’s license for up to 90 days. Should that person not have a license, the state could impose a delay of up to one year before the person could receive their first operator’s permit.
A person under 21 attempting to buy tobacco products and misrepresenting their age would be subject to a fine of $200 and possibly community service.
Retailers don’t get off the hook with the changes either, as they would be subject to a fine of up to $100 for a first offense of selling to a person under 21-years-old, which could escalate to $500 for subsequent offenses.
Because the state would be looking at lost revenue from less people buying tobacco, an increase in the tobacco tax has been included in an amendment. The cigarette tax would jump 13 cents per year until it is increased by a total of 39 cents on Jan. 1, 2019 to a new rate of $3.47 per pack. Tobacco sold by weight would increase 32 cents per ounce over that time frame, while cigars would also see a total increase of 32 cents, broken up into annual increase of 11 cents in 2017, 10 cents in 2018 and 11 cents in 2019.
The current tax rate on cigars in Vermont is 92 percent of the wholesale price, though that is capped at $2 for a cigar with an MSRP of under $10, and $4 per stick for a cigar with an MSRP of $10 or more.
H. 93 is sponsored by Rep. George W. Till, D-Chittenden, a physician and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Vermont School of Medicine.
Now the proposal goes to the state Senate for its approval, where it is predicted to meet opposition. Should it pass, it would then head to Gov. Peter Shumlin for his approval. According to a report from VTDigger.org, a spokesman for the governor said he does not support an increase in the minimum age to purchase tobacco products.