Tobacco 21 and limits to retail and online sales now in effect
Vermont Business Magazine Calling out three pieces of tobacco and e-cigarette prevention legislation recently signed into law by Governor Phil Scott as “significant,” Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD applauded their passage and predicted the bills will mark a “major public health impact for generations to come.” Chief among the legislation is S.86, also known as Tobacco 21. The new law protects Vermont’s youth from starting and using tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, by raising the minimum age to purchase the products from 18 to 21. The measure is complemented by H.26, which prohibits anyone from selling e-cigarettes, liquid containing nicotine, or other tobacco substitutes without a Vermont seller license − effectively prohibiting the online sales of such products.
“We heard from schools that students were able to use gift cards and other means to buy e-cigarettes online, including in bulk, and then selling pods and e-juice at school,” said Skyler Genest, director of Compliance and Enforcement with the Department of Liquor and Lottery. “Our brick and mortar retailers are working hard to verify legal age to purchase, and this new law restricting online sales will make the enforcement landscape easier for us to help protect Vermont youth from tobacco.”
The third piece of legislation, H.47, subjects e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine to the same 92% tax already assessed on tobacco-related products.
Taken together, Vermont has laid out a comprehensive approach to stem the increase in e-cigarette use and nicotine addiction among Vermont’s teens and young adults.
Nationally, there has been a 78% increase in vaping among high school students from 2017 to 2018, a rate that Dr. Levine calls “alarming.”
“The tobacco and e-cigarette industries have used clever marketing and thousands of flavors to appeal to kids,” said Dr. Levine. “By increasing the age to purchase and possess tobacco to 21, restricting online e-cigarette sales and establishing an e-cigarette tax, Vermont is continuing its public health leadership role in curbing nicotine addiction and tobacco use.”
Health officials, advocates and legislators acknowledge that the efforts of the industry to appeal to youth were a driver behind the move to action this year. “There are more than 15,000 e-cigarette flavors,” said Dr. Levine. “And 13% of youth e-cig users in Vermont said the primary reason they use them is that they are available in so many flavors. These products are little more than nicotine addiction on training wheels.”
Dr. Levine said that in addition to the long-term health concerns of heart and lung disease and cancers related to tobacco, vaping products pack their own potentially toxic chemicals – from arsenic to formaldehyde – with the health problems that can come from ingesting these chemicals. Data also indicates nicotine addiction can often make it easier for people to become addicted to traditional cigarettes and other substances, including opioids.
Vermont is the 14th state to raise the age to purchase all tobacco products from 18 to 21, and just the second state to tax e-cigarettes. The rate of 92% wholesale is one of the highest in the U.S. The Vermont legislature acted in 2008 to restrict online and mail order sales of cigarettes, roll-your-own and little cigars. Lawmakers this year strengthened that stance by including e-cigarettes in the online sale restrictions.
Increasing the price of tobacco products and raising the purchase age to 21 are well-established and effective prevention strategies to reduce youth use. An Institute of Medicine report found that the youth smoking prevalence would reduce by 12% over time following passage of Tobacco 21 laws.
“These three bills are our way of saying ‘No, we will not allow Vermont’s kids and teens to be recruited as the new generation of tobacco users,’” said Dr. Levine. “We know that prevention requires many different strategies to succeed in protecting those most vulnerable to these highly marketed and flavorful tobacco products.”