Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Members of the Finance Committee Wednesday deliberating (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — A bill that will increase from 18 to 21 the minimum age to purchase tobacco products and e-cigarettes easily passed the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on Wednesday.

The bill now heads to the House.

CLICK TO VOTE ON HB 7200: An Act Prohibiting The Sale Of Cigarettes, Tobacco Products, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems And Vapor Products To Persons Under Age Twenty One

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When and if the state passes legislation raising the age, it will be catching up with a number of Connecticut towns — including Hartford, Bridgeport, South Windsor, Southington, Wallingford, Trumbull, and Milford — that have already passed ordinances of their own.

Gov. Ned Lamont proposed raising the age as part of his first two-year budget. He estimates Connecticut will lose $5.8 million in revenue in the first year and $5.5 million in the second year of the budget.

Lamont is also proposing a 75% wholesale tax on electronic cigarette liquids. The committee knocked it down to 50%.

The only objections to the bill were raised by a few Republican members who said they felt that the fees and penalties the bills called for were too harsh, particularly on small businesses.

“I will support the bill,” Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, said, but he added that he was “worried about the fees being too hard on businesses.” He said he also had concerns about the annual audits.

But Witkos and others who questioned the language in the bill were told by proponents that language on the bill will be worked on before it comes before the House for a full vote.

Some weren’t worried about the wording, including Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester.

“Cigarettes kill,” Cassano said, “and if they destroy we treat. So there is some justification in the fees because we do pay an awful lot of money in the long term.”

This bill raises, from 18 to 21, the legal age to purchase cigarettes, other tobacco products, and e-cigarettes (i.e., electronic nicotine delivery systems and vapor products).

Among other things, the bill also:

• increases, from $50 to $250, the annual license fee for cigarette dealers and requires $160 of the fee to be deposited into a “Tobacco Control Enforcement Account” the bill establishes;

• increases, from $400 to $1,000, the annual registration fee for e-cigarette dealers and requires $480 of the fee to be deposited into an “Electronic Nicotine Delivery System and Vapor Product Enforcement Account” the bill establishes; generally increases certain penalties for cigarette, tobacco product, and e-cigarette sales and purchases involving individuals under the legal age); and requires the consumer protection (DCP) and revenue services (DRS) commissioners to annually conduct unannounced compliance checks on e-cigarette dealers and cigarette dealers and distributors, respectively, and post a list of non-compliant dealers and distributors on their department websites.

The bill results in estimated state revenue losses of $4.9 million in FY 20 (partial year) and $6.3 million in FY 21 based on anticipated smoking cessation of individuals ages 18 to 20. The bill raises fees and fines, which are anticipated to increase state revenues by $1.2 million that offset additional regulatory costs incurred by the state departments of Revenue Services and Consumer Protection under the bill.
One recent report has given advocates added momentum — a Department of Public Health 2017 Youth Tobacco Survey indicates e-cigarette use has more than doubled by Connecticut high school students from 7.2 percent using in 2015 to 14.7 percent using in 2017.