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MONTPELIER, Vt. -- Lawmakers in the Vermont House of Representatives rejected a measure that would have hiked the legal age to buy tobacco to 21.
According to a report by The Associated Press, the Tuesday vote by the House Human Services Committee came after State Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen said he opposed the legislation because 18- to 20-year-olds are legally adults and should have the freedom to smoke.
"I think we all share the goal of reducing our smoking rate, especially our smoking rate among young Vermonters," Chen said. However, he argued the government needs to be slow about restricting the freedoms of adults by "compelling or prohibiting behavior."
Last month, state Rep. George Till (D-Jericho) tried to add an amendment to a bill seeking to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke that would have raised the age for buying tobacco products. He agreed to withdraw this amendment after Majority Leader Willem Jewett and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Ann Pugh agreed the committee would address the age increase in separate legislation, the AP reported.
State Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Northfield) said there was not enough time left in the legislative session, which is due to wrap up in early May, to consider what she called a "major policy change." Friday is the last day for getting most bills out of their committee of origin.
State Rep. Matt Trieber (D-Rockingham) made motions to reject two versions of the age increase, one of which would have exempted members of the military. The motion to reject the measure without the military exemption was approved 10-1; the motion to reject the version with the military exemption was passed 11-0.
Trieber said he opposed raising the age for buying tobacco products, but added that he could be persuaded to change his mind after hearing more committee testimony showing there is scientific data supporting such a move, according to the report.