May 31, 2019

Senators Abrams And Flexer Lead Senate Vote To Raise Smoking Age To 21

HARTFORD, CT – Today, State Senators Mary Daugherty Abrams (D- Meriden, Middlefield, Rockfall, Middletown, Cheshire) and Mae Flexer (D-Windham) led the Senate’s passing of legislation raising the age of purchase for tobacco products from 18 to 21. This legislation is part of a push to counteract the increase in smoking among our youth, especially the use of tobacco vaporizers or “vapes,” which the Surgeon General called an “epidemic” in December 2018. Sen. Abrams introduced the bill, then ceded the floor to Sen. Flexer, who has championed the cause and developed the legislation for years.

“After so many years, I’m thrilled that the Senate finally passed this important legislation with bipartisan involvement and support,” said Senator Flexer. “This is a critical public health crisis dramatically affecting youth in our state. Ninety-five percent of people who begin a nicotine addiction do so before the age of 21. Ten years ago, because of our strong anti-tobacco laws, we were on track to have our first tobacco-free generation. But the sky-rocketing use of electronic cigarettes has changed that. Students in our middle schools and high schools are leaving their classes to go use these products in the bathroom. Vaping among our youth has more than doubled in the last two years. This smart policy will keep these products out of the hands of kids and ensure that in the future, fewer and fewer people become addicted to tobacco products. It will put us back on track towards a tobacco-free generation.”

“As the Senate Chair of the Public Health Committee, I am heartened that Connecticut is taking steps to protect our youth,” said Sen. Abrams. “We know that 95 percent of addicted smokers start before they turn 21, and young smokers frequently access tobacco products through their 18-to-21-year-old peers. By raising the smoking age, we cut off that access point. Smoking leads to life-long health effects, some of them life-ending, others directly linked to cancers and heart diseases. If we can stop youth from accessing tobacco early, we can save lives and improve public health.”

House Bill No. 7200, commonly referred to as “Tobacco 21,” raises the legal purchase age of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vaping products and other tobacco products from 18 to 21, effective on October 1. In addition to raising the age of access, the bill increases penalties for tobacco sales to individuals under the age of 21 and bans smoking and e-cigarette use on school and child care center grounds, among other changes to current laws.

Businesses found to sell tobacco products to underage patrons will see fines increased from $200 to $300 for first offenses, from $350 to $750 for second offenses, and from $500 to $1,000 for further offenses. They also face a possible revocation of their license to sell tobacco products.

This bill comes as data shows an increase in youth and underage tobacco use, specifically of vaping products. In 2018, more than 3.6 million youth across the United States – including 20 percent of high school students and 5 percent of middle school students – reported using e-cigarettes, according to the Surgeon General. Vaping products also have led to concerns about public health, as they utilize chemicals that are seen as unsafe. They are also often sold with “sweet” flavors, and the chemicals used in those flavors pose additional health risks. The Centers for Disease Control said in 2016 that vaping flavors can facilitate nicotine addiction and simulated smoking behavior.

The bill also closes a significant loophole that will prevent youth access to tobacco products, as it requires online e-cigarette sellers to obtain the signature of someone 21 or older when delivering a package. This prevents underage shoppers from obtaining vapes or other smoking products without having to show identification or prove they’re of age.

Before the bill reached the Senate, the House approved it by a bipartisan 124-22 vote, and 53 Senators and Representatives co-sponsored the legislation. Its approval would make Connecticut the 12th state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to raise the age of access to 21.