1. Raise the age of sale for tobacco products to 21;
2. Achieve tax parity between cigarettes and other tobacco products; and
3. Protect funding for tobacco control for fiscal year 2018.
Connecticut, like some other states in the country, is facing an incredibly challenging fiscal environment. Much of the 2016 legislative session was focused on addressing the budget deficit which made any kind of legislation with even a small fiscal note near impossible to pass. We did see bills make promising progress in 2016. Bills to reduce residents' exposure to secondhand smoke through closing some of the clean indoor air law loopholes and prohibiting smoking in cars while a person under 18 is present made it through the committee process. A bill proposing to raise the sales age for tobacco products to 21 got a hearing. Ultimately though, none of these pieces of legislation passed. Connecticut will be bringing in over $519 million in revenue from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes this year and decided again, to spend $0 of that money on tobacco prevention or cessation.
The American Lung Association in Connecticut views the 2017 legislative session as a new opportunity to make progress in this continued fight against the changing landscape of tobacco products in Connecticut. While the budget challenges of years past are not going away, it is imperative that elected officials take to heart that tobacco takes too great a toll on this state's physical and fiscal health. The expanding world of tobacco products offers a number of challenges to the public health progress we made in previous decades to de-normalize smoking and significantly reduce smoking rates. The tobacco industry is changing with the times to ensure their profits and viability; Connecticut must update its policies to keep up with the times and protect the public health successes it has enjoyed.
The majority of tobacco users get hooked on nicotine at young ages. It is time to help address that by raising the tobacco sales age to 21. When looking at youth tobacco use rates they are starting to use tobacco products that are cheaper than cigarettes - ones taxed at rates much lower than cigarettes. That's why the state needs to close that tax loophole. Lastly, the state must utilize some of the money the state gets from the Master Settlement Agreement and tobacco taxes to fund programs for its intent - to keep youth from starting to use tobacco and helping those hooked to quit. 2017 presents a number of challenges and opportunities to achieving these big goals. One thing is for sure, we can no longer afford to stick with the status quo.