In an overwhelming vote of support Tuesday, Burlington voters passed ballot item 7 urging the Governor and state lawmakers to pass legislation increasing the sale age of tobacco to 21.  The ballot item passed 8,152 to 3,554. The vote follows a resolution passed previously by the city council calling tobacco use a ‘pediatric epidemic’.

The state Senate last year opted not to move forward on S.88 — a bill that would have raised the sale age of tobacco products from 18 to 21. There is legislation in the House currently, H.52 (which was passed previously and not acted on by the Senate) and H.706 which would do the same. Another measure, H.893, would give all towns in Vermont the authority to pass local ordinances to increase the tobacco sale age.

Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, a sponsor of the House legislation, praised Burlington voters for their support, “This vote highlights the desire of Vermonters for the Vermont Senate to take action now to address one of the most preventable public health problems.”

“Tobacco use is responsible for $348 million in healthcare and Medicaid costs annually in the Vermont. And every year 1,000 Vermonters die from smoking,” said American Heart Association Government Relations Director Tina Zuk.

“Raising the sale age of tobacco to 21 will reduce long-term tobacco-related health costs and save kids from a lifetime of addiction because most smokers start before they turn 21,” said Rebecca Ryan, Sr. Director for Health Education and Public Policy at the American Lung Association. “The result is a 12% reduction in smoking over time and 10% fewer smoking-related deaths.”

“Right now, retailers sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to 18 and 19-year-olds who then give or sell those products to younger kids in high school,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, Director of Advocacy, Northeast Region, with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.  “The goal of raising the sale age is to help keep these addictive products away from 15 – 17-year-olds, who make up the majority of Vermont’s high schools.”

Vermont Dental Society Executive Director Vaughn Collins said not acting would have great costs, however, passing tobacco 21 legislation could be a huge life-safer. “Ten thousand kids alive today will die prematurely of tobacco but tobacco 21 legislation could save 1,000 of them.”

“The result of yesterday’s vote demonstrates, yet again, that raising the sale age of tobacco to 21 has overwhelming public support. Tobacco 21 will help prevent young people from ever becoming addicted to tobacco and suffering its deadly effects. We urge the state legislature to stand up for the health of all Vermonters and pass Tobacco 21 this session,” said American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Managing Director of Government Relations Bill Sherman.

Immediate past-governor of the Vermont Chapter of the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Prospero Gogo said efforts like these are important because currently, 68% of Vermont smokers under the age of 18 had someone else buy, borrowed or bummed cigarettes. “This means we have a whole new generation of smokers and heart patients coming down the pike if we do nothing,” He noted that 55 percent of all patients presenting with a heart attack at the UVM Medical Center are current smokers.