1. Raise the minimum age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21;
2. Add e-cigarettes to Rhode Island's smokefree workplace law; and
3. Increase funding to the Rhode Island Department of Health's tobacco control program.
The 2016 Rhode Island legislative session included a little cigar tax bill that was championed by the American Lung Association in Rhode Island. In summary, this bill required taxing little cigars in the same manner as the tax imposed on cigarettes and that they be sold in packs of 20 or more. This bill passed in the state Senate but never made it to the state House of Representatives for a vote.
Other tobacco bills, although not victorious, but were at least introduced included: adding electronic cigarettes to the Rhode Island smokefree workplace law, adding sales and use taxes to electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), prohibiting smoking in vehicles containing restrained children, raising the legal minimum age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21 and prohibiting the sale of ENDS liquid that is not contained in child-resistant packaging as well as prohibiting the use of ENDS products in schools.
The proposed fiscal year 2017 budget from Governor Raimondo once again included a 25-cent cigarette tax increase. As in previous years, none of the additional tax revenue was being dedicated to tobacco control programs, with the resulting price increase being too small to impact smoking rates amongst youth or adults. With strong opposition from public health advocates, including the American Lung Association in Rhode Island, this requested excise tax was defeated and not included in the final budget approved by the legislature.
Although it was a fairly neutral year for tobacco control state legislation, on the local level, there were some victories. The City of Central Falls, with support from the Lung Association and Tobacco Free RI, adopted comprehensive tobacco control regulations which included requiring local tobacco retail licensing, the elimination of tobacco discounts and promotions and the sale of flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Several other Rhode Island cities and towns considered similar regulations which are expected to gain traction in the upcoming year.
The American Lung Association will build on positive hearings in 2017 for bills that would raise the age of sale for tobacco products to 21, add ENDS products to the state's smokefree workplace law, and increase funding for the state's tobacco control program. Strong public support exists for these measures, which the Lung Association will seek to publicize and leverage with state legislators and policy makers.