Maine will become the fourth state in the country to ban tobacco sales to individuals under 21 after state lawmakers voted Wednesday to override the Republican governor’s veto of a bill meant to curb smoking-related deaths.
The law will take effect next July following Wednesday’s votes in the state House and Senate, at which point Maine will join California, Hawaii and New Jersey as the only states to have raised the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.
The bill was enacted by the state legislature last month but was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage a week later, who decried the proposal then as an attempt at “social engineering.”
“I am not going to strap a gun to their shoulder [to] go fight a war if they can’t go buy cigarettes. This is just absolutely sinful!” Mr. LePage said during an interview on WVOM last month. “I believe at 18, they are mature enough to make the decision.”
The state Senate voted 29-5 and the state House voted 90-44 Wednesday to override the governor’s veto.
Specifically the bill prohibits individuals under 21 from purchasing tobacco products including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, vaporizers, hookah pipes and other smoking accessories from Maine retailers. An amended version passed by the legislature includes exceptions for individuals currently between the ages of 18 and 20.
Proponents of the legislation insist raising the age for tobacco sales will keep Mainers from taking up smoking at an age when it’s more prone to be habit-forming, in turn reducing associated health risks including smoking-related death.
Hiking the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 could prevent over 223,000 premature deaths of people born between 2000 and 2019, according to the American Lung Association.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill last month similarly banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone younger than 21. California and Hawaii enacted comparable measures in 2016, and over 250 cities and municipalities including Chicago and and Boston have passed age restrictions of their own.