Senate Revives Effort to Raise Smoking Age, But Future Uncertain | Off Message
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Friday, March 24, 2017

Senate Revives Effort to Raise Smoking Age, But Future Uncertain

Posted By on Fri, Mar 24, 2017 at 4:14 PM

click to enlarge Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden) speaks in favor of raising the legal smoking age to 21. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden) speaks in favor of raising the legal smoking age to 21.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman broke his first tie Friday on a vote to rescue a bill that would raise the smoking age to 21.

The bill’s prospects remain in limbo, however, as senators later put the bill, S.88, on hold. Supporters indicated that while they had just enough votes to keep the bill alive, they lack sufficient backing to pass it.

“We wanted to give senators more time to be educated on the bill and address some of the concerns,” said Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden), a leading supporter of raising the smoking age.

One of those concerns is money the state would lose by collecting less in cigarette taxes. Under the bill as written, the state would lose an estimated $1.4 million next year from cigarettes not sold to consumers under age 21.

The bill appeared dead Thursday when senators voted to send it to the Senate Finance Committee. It would have languished there and missed the legislative deadline for bills to cross from one chamber to the other.

But the legislation found new life Friday when Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans) asked to reconsider Thursday’s vote, which members can do within a day of a vote.
click to enlarge Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans) asks to have the smoking age bill reconsidered Friday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans) asks to have the smoking age bill reconsidered Friday.
Senators then voted 14-14 against sending the bill to the Finance Committee. Zuckerman broke the tie, voting to keep the bill out of committee and on the Senate floor.

But nearly two hours later, when the Senate reconvened after lunch, supporters of the higher smoking age knew they lacked the votes to pass the overall bill. Senate Health and Welfare Committee chair Claire Ayer (D-Addison) made the motion to order the bill to lie. Any senator can on a future date ask to bring the bill back up for a vote.

Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) was absent and Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle) recused himself because his Colchester store sells cigarettes.

Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) voted to keep the bill out of the Finance Committee, but said later that she has been clear from the start that she plans to vote against the bill.

White said she thinks some senators wanted to maroon the bill in the Finance Committee to avoid having their vote on the bill on record, which she thinks is wrong. As for the bill itself, she said, 18-year-olds should be allowed to make their own decisions. “You have to be 21 to buy alcohol and I don’t think that should be so,” she said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) had similar rationale for his vote against raising the age. He argued that if 18-year-olds can serve in the military, they can decide whether to smoke. He said he would support lowering the drinking age to 18 if the federal government didn’t tie highway funding to the issue.

But Zuckerman, after casting his first vote as lieutenant governor, had a different view. A 21-year-old smoking age would be consistent with the drinking age and the age for marijuana use under a proposed legalization bill. “The decision to use them should be made by someone at an older age,” he said.

If the higher smoking age passes the Senate, it’s likely to get a positive reception in the House. Members there voted for the higher age last year before the Senate declined to consider the measure.

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About The Author

Terri Hallenbeck

Terri Hallenbeck

Terri Hallenbeck was a Seven Days staff writer covering politics, the Legislature and state issues from 2014 to 2017.

More by Terri Hallenbeck


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