Our opinion: Tobacco double standard should go up in smoke

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For the fifth time since 2014, as reported by The Times Argus, state Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, is trying to raise the legal age for purchasing and possessing tobacco, tobacco substitutes and tobacco paraphernalia from 18 to 21. We're glad for Till's persistence, because the availability of known addictive, cancer-causing substances to young adults is a foolish and illogical double standard that needs to disappear.

Under current state law, you must be 21 years old to legally purchase and consume alcohol, a legal substance with known health risks. That makes sense, as we've learned that alcohol is bad for developing brains, and that teens who drink are more likely to have trouble with alcohol as adults.

Under the marijuana law passed last year, you must be 21 years old to legally possess small amounts of the drug for personal use. That makes sense, because according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry last fall, adolescents who regularly use marijuana are at risk of delayed brain development and damage to their cognitive ability.
But 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds in Vermont have unfettered, legal access to tobacco, an addictive product that has been scientifically proven to sicken and kill people when used as intended. Tobacco use in all forms has been firmly linked to cancer.

In 2017, a bill that would have raised the legal age for buying tobacco to 21 passed in the state House, but lost in the Senate by a vote of 13 in favor and 16 opposed.

Those voting "no" on S.88, on April 25, 2017, included Bennington County Sens. Brian Campion and Dick Sears, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe. Republican minority leader Sen. Joe Benning of Caledonia County voted no; Democratic majority leader Sen. Becca Balint of Windham County voted yes.

Campion and Sears, whose district continues to struggle with the health, drinking water and property value impacts of PFOA contamination, have rightly been among the leaders in fighting for legislation to protect residents of Vermont from toxic substances. And Campion and Ashe showed leadership in demanding that the state test all public schools for lead in drinking water.

But when you consider preventable human health risks from exposure to toxic substances, cigarette smoke is at the top of the list. According to the American Cancer Society, here's some of the substances people inhale into their lungs when they light up: Nicotine, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, ammonia, benzene, carbon monoxide, nitrosamines, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

We trust that our lawmakers recognize this, and will vote accordingly. The best way for young adults to quit smoking, and avoid serious health consequences that come from getting hooked on cigarettes or spit tobacco, is to never start. We hope our entire delegation will support raising the legal purchase and possession age for all tobacco products, and nicotine delivery devices such as Juul, to 21 years of age.


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