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Connecticut Senate gives final approval to raising tobacco age to 21, Gov. Ned Lamont plans to sign bill

The age to purchase tobacco in Connecticut could very soon be 21.

House Bill 7200 passed the Senate Friday by a 33-3 vote. The bill, which passed the House
earlier this month, covers cigarettes as well as other tobacco-related products such as
electronic cigarettes, vaping products and chewing tobacco.

Gov. Ned Lamont, who plans to sign the bill, praised the decision in a statement sent after
the bill’s passage. He said the new law reflects growing concerns about e-cigarettes and
decades of medical research showing the negative effects of tobacco.

“Some have pointed out that raising the age to 21 will result in a net revenue loss to the
state, but when it comes to the health of our young people we need to do what is right,”
Lamont said. “When I sign this into law, we will have taken an important step forward in
protecting the health of the youngest members of our communities.”

Local ordinances raising the tobacco age from 18 to 21 have already passed across the
state, including in cities such as Hartford. Lawmakers say they support the bill because 95
percent of smokers become addicted before they turn 21.

Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, recently graduated from Georgetown University and the 23-
year-old testified about the boom of the e-cigarette trend.

He worked at a convenience store in Washington, D.C. and said young people would
constantly come to buy Juul vapes when the store started selling them his senior year.

“They’re lured into this deadly habit under the guise of fruity flavors,” Haskell said.
Other Georgetown students, Haskell said, would even step out of class because they
couldn’t make it through a 50-minute lecture without needing to vape.

Before he voted against the bill, Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said he opposed the
legislation because it was unfair to 18-year-olds who were considered adults under so many
other aspects of state law.

“I feel this bill in some ways is a triumph of emotion over reason,” he said.

He pointed out that 18-year-olds wouldn’t be able to legally smoke even though they were
considered adult enough to serve in the armed forces.

“I don’t want to blur what we consider to be an adult and a minor in the policies we pass in
this legislature,” Sampson said.

A Senate amendment that would have allowed service members under 21 to purchase
tobacco products failed.

Republican Sens. Gennaro Bizzarro of New Britain and John Kissel of Enfield also voted
against the bill.

For Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, the bill was a way to prevent others from making the
same decisions she did as a teen.

Cohen said she started smoking at 14 because she and her friends thought it sounded cool,
and she loved it from the very beginning.

Only when she became pregnant with her son 15 years later did she finally stop.
“It was the hardest thing I had ever had to do, and to this day I still miss smoking,” Cohen

She said she sometimes feels like she could go back to it when she sees other people
around her smoking.

Cohen’s father died from lung cancer, she said. He started smoking when he was 12, and he
couldn’t quit when he learned of the health risks. It took his cancer diagnosis for him to

With a higher smoking age in the state, Cohen said she thinks fewer people will follow the
same path as her and her father.

“I wholeheartedly believe that this will most definitely save lives because we all know that
teenagers have lapses in judgment from time to time,” she said.

Around a dozen states have voted to raise the tobacco age to 21.

Tobacco 21 wins passage in Senate, heads to governor for signing

Connecticut is poised to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 with an overwhelming vote Friday in the state Senate endorsing the bill.

The measure won passage in the House earlier this month and now heads to Gov. Ned Lamont, who has pledged to sign it. The law would take effect in October.

The Senate voted 33-3 in favor of the proposal, with three Republicans dissenting.

“Increasing the age of being able to purchase tobacco products … is going to dramatically cut the number of young people who start smoking in our state,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, a key backer of the measure. “It’s also going to dramatically cut the number of young people who start to use vaping products. As we’ve seen in recent years, those numbers are skyrocketing.”

Once signed into law, Connecticut will join 15 other states and hundreds of cities and towns that have passed similar legislation, including California, Maryland, Washington, Hawaii and most recently, New York.

This year, the State Board of Education released a report showing a six-fold increase in the number of suspensions and expulsions related to vaping over the prior year. The number of Connecticut high school students who used vaping products doubled from 2015 to 2017, according to a study released by the state Department of Public Health last fall. Overall, 14.7 percent of high school students reported “currently” vaping in 2017, compared to 7.2 percent in 2015.

Connecticut’s law would prohibit businesses from selling products such as cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco or pipe tobacco to people younger than 21. It also bans the sale of vaping products, which contain nicotine, to those under 21.

“Tobacco use in this country remains the leading cause of preventable deaths,” Flexer said. “Tobacco use kills more people in Connecticut each year than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, accidents, murders and suicides combined.”

Health advocates have praised the bill and said it mirrors legislation raising the age for purchase of tobacco products in eight Connecticut communities, including Hartford and Bridgeport.

The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services would be responsible for conducting unannounced compliance checks on e-cigarette dealers and referring violators to the Department of Revenue Services, which could impose penalties.

Under the proposal, the department could levy fines of up to $300 for a first offense; up to $750 for a second violation; and up to $1,000 for each subsequent offense. Fines for a second or subsequent violation apply within 24 months of the first offense.

The bill increases, from $50 to $200, the annual license fee for cigarette dealers. It also boosts the penalty for each day a cigarette dealer or distributor operates without a license to $50, up from $5.

Sen. Christine Cohen, who started smoking at age 14 and quit years later when she became pregnant, said lawmakers have “a responsibility to our youth.” The ordeal of kicking her cigarette habit was the toughest feat of her life, she said.

“It’s very hard to overcome,” Cohen said. “I’m hard pressed to think of another product on the market that has the known detrimental health risks and addictive qualities that tobacco has.”

Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, one of the few legislators to oppose the measure, tried unsuccessfully to push through an amendment that would have exempted those serving in the military. Sampson, who took up smoking at age 13, said that if people are old enough to defend the country, they should be able to buy tobacco.

“I agree minors should be restricted from purchasing cigarettes, but the term is minors,” he said. “I don’t want to blur what we consider to be an adult and a minor in the policies we pass. It is dangerous to do so.”

Anti-smoking advocates hailed the adoption.

“Connecticut lawmakers have demonstrated that they are committed to putting the health of our kids first,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, an advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids​​​​​​, a national nonprofit. “Studies show that increasing the sale age of all tobacco products – including electronic cigarettes – to 21 keeps children from getting access to these dangerous products. It’s our hope that [the legislation] will help us work toward the goal of eliminating tobacco use among our kids.”

In Washington, Juul Vows to Curb Youth Vaping. Its Lobbying in States Runs Counter to That Pledge.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — For months, Juul Labs has had a clear, unwavering message for officials in Washington: The e-cigarette giant is committed to doing all it can to keep its hugely popular vaping products away from teenagers.

But here in Columbia, the South Carolina capital, and in statehouses and city halls across the country, a vast, new army of Juul lobbyists is aggressively pushing measures that undermine that pledge.

The company’s 80-plus lobbyists in 50 states are fighting proposals to ban flavored e-cigarette pods, which are big draws for teenagers; pushing legislation that includes provisions denying local governments the right to adopt strict vaping controls; and working to make sure that bills to discourage youth vaping do not have stringent enforcement measures.

Though Juul supports numerous state bills that would raise the legal age for buying vaping and tobacco products to 21, some of those bills contain minimal sanctions for retailers. Others fine only the clerks and not the owners for violations.

“Juul is attempting to rehabilitate its public image by posing as a public health advocate while working behind the scenes to weaken or defeat tobacco control proposals and prevent communities from even considering policies to curb tobacco use,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, whose network of lobbyists has parried with e-cigarette and tobacco industries in many states this year.

In a statement, Juul said, “We are as committed as ever to combating youth usage but don’t take our word for it — look at our actions.”

The company cited its action plan, unveiled in November, which included shutting down its social media accounts, discontinuing sales of many flavored pods in retail stores and strengthening its online age verification systems.

E-cigarettes allow smokers to inhale the nicotine they crave without the toxins that come from burning tobacco. But Juul’s sleek devices, which resemble a flashdrive, became immensely popular with teenagers, stoking worries that the devices were creating a new generation of nicotine addicts among people who have never smoked.

Juul denies marketing to young people, and it has revamped its website to focus on adult smokers. But as it faces serious regulatory threats from the Trump administration, as well as targeting by state and city lawmakers, the company has quickly built an enormous lobbying machine to protect its turf as best it can. With the recent departure of Scott Gottlieb, a vociferous critic of Juul, from the post of F.D.A. commissioner, the company’s more urgent battles, for now, are in the states.

Most of Juul’s state lobbyists work for well-connected firms run by ex-governors, former state lawmakers and big political donors, public records show. Some are in-house, based in the growing number of offices the company is opening around the country. The company’s latest star hire is Martha Coakley, the former attorney general of Massachusetts. (The state’s current attorney general, Maura Healey, is investigating whether Juul intentionally targeted its vaping products to minors.)

In a series of interviews, Lindsay Andrews, a spokeswoman for Juul, said the lobbyists were primarily focused on raising the minimum age for buying e-cigarette and traditional tobacco products to 21 from 18, or in a few states, 19. More than 400 local governments and 14 states have already done so, eight of the states this year.

But in numerous states, the proposals that Juul publicly supports, known as Tobacco 21, or T21, contain measures that public health experts consider poison pills.

Juul says it prefers that T21 legislation does not have added provisions. But it worked to help pass a T21 law in the Arkansas Legislature, for example, that would also block local governments from enacting new rules regarding the manufacture, sale, storage or distribution of tobacco and vaping products — including restrictions on flavored products.

For related reasons, public health advocates have opposed Juul-backed T21 bills in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia. The tobacco industry supported the T21 bills.

In some states Juul’s advocacy is public, and in others the company is barely visible, working only through the Vapor Technology Association, or by relying on Altria, the tobacco company that late last year paid Juul $12.8 billion for a 35 percent stake.

In South Carolina, for example, Juul has not taken a public position on a contentious proposal to pre-empt local governments from banning flavored e-cigarettes or otherwise regulating any tobacco product. But at a hearing on the bill last month, Brian Flynn, one of Juul’s three lobbyists with McGuireWoods Consulting, a firm run by the former governor James H. Hodges, testified in favor of the pre-emption plan.

At the hearing, Mr. Flynn introduced himself as a lobbyist for both Juul and the South Carolina Association of Convenience Stores. He noted that on the matter of pre-emption, he spoke only for the retailers.

Critics did not see much of a distinction.

“This is too cute by half,” said Pamela Gilbert, a lawyer and a former executive director of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Juul must know their lobbyist is lobbying for the pre-emption bill, and Juul must have approved that. If Juul really didn’t want to be connected to the support for that bill, Juul should hire another lobbyist.”

Some of the so-called pre-emption measures around the country were written using model language from the Vapor Technology Association, according to Kinn Elliott, a V.T.A. lobbyist who recently joined the association from Juul. Other pre-emption bills, in whole or in part, have been drafted with language from lobbyists for Altria and the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

Altria, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, has a potent lobbying network in Washington and around the country. Asked if Altria was advising Juul’s state lobbying efforts, or if the two related businesses were working together, an Altria spokesman, David Sutton, replied that there was no contractual service agreement by which Altria would assist Juul’s government affairs. He added that he did not know what informal conversations on state lobbying issues might have taken place.

“I just don’t know, I’m not on the ground,” Mr. Sutton said. “Is there a conversation between the Altria government affairs people and the Juul government affairs people on the ground? I don’t know.”

He declined to provide access to Altria employees who could answer the question. Juul also declined to answer the question.

But Vince Willmore, a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which has been involved in many of these state battles, said, “It’s hard to say where Altria ends and Juul begins.”

So far, Juul’s state and local efforts have had mixed success. In Sacramento, Juul tried to head off a proposal to ban the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco products in the city, as San Francisco did last year.

Steve Hansen, the councilman who wrote the bill, met with two Juul lobbyists in early March to hear their alternative plan. They were pushing a plan that would ban only flavors that are “knowingly attractive to minors.” The City Council rejected Juul’s proposal and on April 16 passed Mr. Hansen’s plan.

Mr. Hansen said he was surprised by the intensity of the lobbying effort.

“In my six years on the City Council I’ve never seen the number of money, lobbyists and Astroturfing we’ve seen here on anything else,” he said.

Ms. Andrews, the Juul spokeswoman, said the effort was important because flavored e-cigarette pods were critical to help smokers switch to vaping.

“In our studies of thousands of Juul users, people who exclusively used nontobacco flavors were 30 percent more likely to switch than those who use tobacco flavors,” she said. “While we do not and will not sell flavors which are clearly targeted to youth, we also understand that flavors that drive adults from cigarettes have the potential to appeal to youth.”

One afternoon last month, Mr. Flynn and another Juul lobbyist, Darrell Campbell, milled about under the South Carolina Statehouse dome, awaiting the fate of a bill that would restrict youths’ access to vape shops.

That legislation, written by State Representative Beth Bernstein, a Democrat, bars anyone under age 18 from going into vape shops without an adult. It also prohibits vaping on school property. But at Juul’s request, Ms. Bernstein took out a provision that would have required an adult to sign for online deliveries of any e-cigarette products ordered online.

In an interview, Ms. Bernstein said that Mr. Flynn and Mr. Campbell were helpful in providing input for the bill, as was Juul’s in-house lobbyist, Jennifer Cunningham.

“They had a little heartburn with it because they felt they were already employing a robust process for verification,” she said. “Juul came to me and said, ‘We already employ a very robust measure to make sure the person purchasing online is over 18.’”

The bill passed, and Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, is expected to sign it.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network opposed the legislation, saying it did not go far enough.

“This bill is like putting lipstick on a pig,” said Cathy Callaway, state and local campaign director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “We don’t need cosmetic fixes, we need proven policies and strong tobacco retailer enforcement to prevent illegal sales to kids.”

Katrina F. Shealy, a Republican senator who supported the bill, said: “I have talked to the people from Juul. They want this.”

Ms. Shealy also said that Juul had spoken to her about bringing a manufacturing plant to her district. “They are looking at locations and one of them is in my district; 825 jobs,” she said. “That’s a lot of jobs.”

McConnell plan to hike the smoking age could be a win for tobacco companies Public health officials see a ‘Trojan Horse’ behind support for the age 21 sales limit.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s push to raise the legal smoking age to 21 sounds like a victory for public health. But anti-tobacco advocates fear McConnell and the tobacco industry may use the bill to block other, more proven measures to reduce youth smoking.

McConnell pledged last week to introduce legislation to raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, calling it a “top priority” when the Senate returns from recess in late April. The move quickly drew surprising enthusiasm from cigarette and vaping manufacturers, who pledged to throw their considerable weight behind his initiative.

But in some states, legislation to raise the age to buy tobacco-related products has supplanted flavor bans, which would cut into the profits of industry giants like Altria and Juul. The industry-backed bills also have halted broader pushes to bar menthol cigarettes or boost state taxes enough to dissuade potential smokers. Some would even exempt tobacco products that aren’t yet on the market.

“They are turning these tobacco 21 bills into Trojan horses,” said John Schachter, director of state communications for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “The industry is positioning tobacco 21 as the only thing that needs to be done on tobacco prevention,” but “tobacco 21 needs to be a complement” to other measures, he said.

A McConnell spokesperson said only that his bill is still being drafted and will be introduced next month. She did not respond when asked whether McConnell would also back higher taxes and flavor bans.

Tobacco and e-cigarette giants like Altria have lobbied against raising taxes on tobacco and banning flavored products popular with teens, which the Centers for Disease Control say would have a bigger impact in reducing teen smoking and vaping.

When family medicine professor Rob Crane heard about McConnell’s announcement, “the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I said, ‘This is really terrible,'” said Crane, a professor at Ohio State University and president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation.

Crane fears McConnell’s bill will dovetail with tobacco lobbying, which has aimed to alter state bills by inserting weak enforcement mechanisms, prohibiting local restrictions on flavored products and heading off increased taxes.

Twelve states have passed laws that raise the legal tobacco purchasing age to 21. But some of them ignore anti-smoking measures that advocates say are most effective.

An Arkansas bill for example, prevents cities and counties from enacting stricter regulations like bans on e-cigarette flavors, tougher enforcement or moving the tobacco sales age higher.

In Virginia, a tobacco stronghold and Altria’s home state, a law set to take effect in July with widespread backing in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, didn’t provide funds for enforcement and would penalize youth buying cigarettes. Critics argue it could lead to racial profiling.

Similar provisions are tucked into a Texas bill set to soon pass the state legislature with broad bipartisan backing.

Evidence that raising the purchasing age lowers tobacco use is scarce because it’s a relatively new effort, advocates say — while research does show that raising taxes just $1 per package curbs purchases of cigarettes and flavored products with particular appeal to teens. E-cigarette flavors drove a surge in teen use last year, according to CDC data.

In McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, state lawmakers last year raised the cigarette tax by 50 cents, the largest increase in the state’s history, but lower than what public health groups wanted. The final budget bill left out a tax on e-cigarettes.

“We had it in the bill and it mysteriously disappeared on the last day of the session,” said Ben Chandler, a former member of Congress and current president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. “We’re still not entirely sure where it went.”

Bans on flavored vapor and on menthol cigarettes, which appeal to younger consumers as well as African Americans, have generated charged debate in places like New York, which passed a package of anti-tobacco bills in 2017 and voted to raise the purchasing age this month. In San Francisco, voters upheld the country’s strictest flavor ban, even after the industry spent $12 million to oppose the referendum.

Tobacco companies “tend to be a lot more focused on the restriction of flavors than on the age of purchase,” said Lisa David, president and CEO of New York-based nonprofit Public Health Solutions. “They fought the flavor bans, they fight hardest on menthol or mint.”

The problem, said the American Heart Association’s Ashley Bell, is that current state tobacco laws “don’t cover the products that are even on the market now, much less the ones that are coming.”

She was referring to Philip Morris International’s IQOS, which heats cigarette tobacco and turns it into a vapor but doesn’t burn it. IQOS is under FDA review, with a likely decision this year.

The sleek, tech-heavy IQOS device has anti-tobacco advocates on high alert. They point to a potential loophole in Rep. Robert Aderholt’s (R-AL) tobacco legislation that could put IQOS into the vaping product category, where it would enjoy laxer marketing restrictions and lower taxes.

At a press conference earlier this month, McConnell offered few details other than that members of the military would be exempt from the new age restrictions. Altria recently hired former aides to McConnell and majority whip John Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, to lobby on tobacco issues.

Backers of the bills say they move in the right direction, if not as far as some would wish.

“I think [tobacco companies] are okay with the bill because it is an issue for their image,” said Virginia state Rep. Christopher Stolle, a Republican who sponsored the House legislation. He brushed aside claims that tobacco 21 bills are a decoy. “There’s no Trojan horse in this.”

And an Altria spokesperson told POLITICO that the company advocates for “straightforward tobacco 21 bills and support bills that provide the most viable legislative path” to raising the purchasing age.

Still, lobbying has hampered other efforts to lower overall tobacco addiction and to head off vaping, which the CDC says has wiped out two decades of declines in teen nicotine use.

More ambitious FDA plans to cap nicotine levels, bar flavored cigars and ban menthol cigarettes — rules that could turn off adult smokers but curb addiction — were left unfinished when former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb left the agency this month. Republicans and industry oppose them, leaving questions about what Gottlieb’s successor will do.

Philip Morris International denies that it’s seeking a loophole for IQOS in the Aderholt bill. The company submitted IQOS as a tobacco product that would be subject to the FDA’s usual restrictions, said company spokesperson Corey Henry.

PMI concedes that IQOS has toxicity but claims it reduces dangerous inhalants from the tobacco by 90 percent. It said it will market directly to adults trying to switch.

The device already has been approved in 45 countries, but the FDA is still evaluating two applications from PMI: one for IQOS as a new tobacco product, and another that would mark it as a modified risk product, signaling it is safer than other tobacco on the market. Altria would be the product’s U.S. distributor.

Public health officials aren’t so convinced that IQOS is aimed purely at adults.

“It’s a beautifully designed device,” said Stanton Glantz, director of the University of California San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. “They’re selling them in things that look like Apple stores. It’s like everything else the industry does, claiming they’re for adults, but selling them for kids.”

Glantz, after reviewing PMI’s FDA application for IQOS, said he doesn’t believe it is safer than cigarettes, only that it has a different risk profile and unknown effects. Such products keep people in the market who would otherwise quit smoking, he said.

“The underlying issue here is an industry that is built around getting individuals addicted to a known addictive agent — nicotine — and then having them be lifetime consumers of their product,” said Joe Thompson, president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and the state’s former surgeon general.

“As a nation, we are at risk of having a whole other generation if not two of going down the same path as their parents,” he said.

How Juul Took a Page From Big Tobacco’s Playbook

“Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, recently invested almost $13 billion in e-cigarette company Juul. Some experts say in its early days Juul mirrored the tobacco industry’s promotional playbook in an effort to hook young people.”