MORGAN TRUE, VTDigger.org
The Vermont House passed a bill Friday that expands smoking bans to all hotel and motel rooms, outside state buildings and partially enclosed public spaces, and in cars carrying children.
"This public health measure continues to protect Vermonters from the impacts of tobacco," said House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, in a statement.
Smith is referring to an amendment that would prevent Vermonters from smoking in the car with children present.
"An infant strapped into a car seat is involuntarily and intensely exposed to more than 400 toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke," said Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, citing an American Lung Association study, according to the statement issued by the speaker’s office.
On the House floor Friday, Komline, the lead sponsor of the amendment, cited data showing that exposure to second-hand smoke is 27times greater in a car than a residence.
The bill, H.217, would also prevent people from smoking within 25 feet of a state building or its property. The ban prohibits smoking on public school grounds and child care facilities. If a child care facility is located in a residence, the inhabitants could smoke when children aren’t present but the children’s parents would need to be notified.
The bill passed on a voice vote with little debate, but it caused a stir on the House floor Thursday when Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, pushed for an amendment to raise the age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.
It was eventually withdrawn, but not before House Majority Leader Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, made a pledge to take up the age increase as separate bill should it pass out of committee.
There are currently two bills increasing the age for purchasing tobacco in the House Human Services Committee. One bill, H.605, raises the age to 21, while the other, H.616, does the same with an exception for members of armed forces who would still be able to purchase tobacco at 18.
Human Services Chair Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, said it would interfere with the committee process to give her opinion on the proposal.
"It’s going to be treated like any other bill," she said.
Her committee will take up the issue the Tuesday after town meeting week, Pugh said, leaving a tight window to get anything to the floor before crossover March 14.
Till said he thinks the expanded smoking ban is a good idea but doesn’t go far enough. Vermont is losing ground in the tobacco secession fight, especially in young people, he said.
"Given that 10,000 kids in Vermont are going to die prematurely from the effects of tobacco, and that 90 percent of younger teenagers get it from 18- to 20-year-olds, it seems obvious that increasing the age is one the best ways to protect them," Till said.
Gov. Peter Shumlin’s office deferred to Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen on the issue of a change in the tobacco age.
"Raising the age to 21 is one strategy to reduce young Vermonters’ smoking rates," he said in an email. "We will refine our position on the specific proposal as the house committee considers the issue in the upcoming weeks. From a public health perspective, no one should purchase or use tobacco products."
Vermont would be the first state to raise the tobacco age, though Till noted some municipalities had upped the cutoff.