- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The state House is set to vote on a bill that would raise the age to smoke tobacco products from 18 to 21 during the next three years.

Under the bill, up for debate Tuesday, the smoking age would go from 18 to 19 this coming January and would increase by one year of age for each of the following two years.

“Raising the age to 21 reduces the likelihood that an 18- or even 19-year-old high school student would be able to purchase products for other students or underage friends,” said Rebecca Ryan, of the American Lung Association’s Vermont unit.

The bill also would make the age for using tobacco products uniform with that for purchasing and possessing alcohol.

Separately, lawmakers are considering a bill to legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, also by someone 21 or older.

California and Hawaii recently passed laws to raise the smoking age to 21; it’s under consideration in several other states, Ryan said.

The measure has been criticized by tobacco retailers, who argue the problem with underage tobacco use is “social sources” - older siblings, friends, parents and others who procure tobacco products for people younger than 18.

As written, the bill “will only serve to penalize law-abiding retailers by reducing the sale of legal tobacco products to adults of legal age,” Thomas Briant, executive director and legal counsel with the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, told the House Human Services Committee.

The 21-year-old smoking age was offered as an amendment to another bill on March 16 by Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, a physician who has long campaigned to curtail tobacco use in his role as a legislator. It lost narrowly when House Speaker Shap Smith declined to cast what would have been a tie-breaking vote in favor. Smith, D-Morristown, could not be reached for comment Monday.

House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, said the chief misgiving among majority Democrats on the Till amendment was that it had not been fully vetted in committee. The bill up for a vote Tuesday has cleared that hurdle, and Copeland Hanzas said she expects it to win approval.

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