Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and in Vermont. To address this enormous toll, the American Lung Association in Vermont calls for the following actions to be taken by our elected officials:
- Increase fiscal year 2019 funding for Vermont's comprehensive tobacco control program to $3.8 million;
- Raise the legal age for sale of tobacco products to 21; and
- Require landlords to disclose smoking policies in building to prospective renters.
2017 marks the least productive year in Vermont's Legislature in the fight against tobacco use. It's the first time in years that a significant tobacco control bill was not passed. In addition, the Governor proposed to cut most of the budget for the Tobacco Evaluation and Review Board which oversees the independent evaluation of the tobacco control program. The final fiscal year 2018 budget included no appropriation for the Board. This cut threatens the future of the Board and ultimately, the effectiveness of the comprehensive tobacco control program.
The Coalition for a Tobacco Free Vermont ran a comprehensive campaign in support of a Senate bill to raise the legal age of the sale of tobacco to 21. In spite of the backing of the Majority Leader and a 5-0 vote from the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, the bill failed 13-16 on the Senate floor. While this was a loss for champion legislators and advocates, it was more of a loss for Vermont teens and young adults. Ninety-five percent of adults started smoking by the age of 21 and half of them became regular smokers by their 19th birthday. Lawmakers missed an opportunity to pass a measure to help to protect Vermont's youth from a lifetime of addiction to tobacco.
Fortunately, the state health department, working with local tobacco control and prevention grantees, is addressing the smoking rate among young adults through the Vermont Tobacco-Free Colleges Initiative. Eighteen percent of Vermonters between the ages of 18 and 24 smoke. By the fall of 2019, the percent of college students covered by a tobacco-free college campus policy will increase from 34 percent to 76 percent, thanks to a resolution passed by the Vermont State College Chancellors. The resolution commits to making all five Vermont State College campuses tobacco-free by the fall of 2019.
The American Lung Association in Vermont will continue to work with coalition partners, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network to advance tobacco control efforts and protect Vermont's tobacco control program. The Lung Association will continue to educate policy makers, business leaders and the media about the importance of raising the age of tobacco sales to 21 as well as other Lung Association goals to reduce tobacco use and protect public health.