PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Senate Judiciary Committee heard a bill Tuesday that proposes raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products in Rhode Island.
The bill, introduced by Senator Cynthia Coyne, mirrors another bill introduced in the House in March by Representative Teresa Tanzi. Both call for raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21.
“I believe it’s common sense legislation that saves lives and healthcare dollars,” Coyne said.
Representative Tanzi says the move is a necessary step in addressing smoking as a public health issue. She believes doing so would decrease rates of youth smoking and improve public health overall.
Several communities in Rhode Island have already raised the minimum purchase age, including Central Falls and Barrington. Across the country, Hawaii and California have also raised their minimum ages.
Many who testified in favor of the bill said the health risks and costs of smoking are well established and in the younger population, the statistics are scary.
“Ninety-five percent of adult smokers begin smoking before the age of 21. Ninety-five percent. Imagine the lives that could be saved, and the future healthcare costs that could be saved,” Andy DiLaredo, of Charlestown, said.
The bill would not only increase the minimum age to buy cigarettes, but it would also include e-cigarettes as a tobacco product.
“I opened my [vape] store to get people off of traditional tobacco,” Owner of Sunshine Vape Darin Tripoli said. “And I think moving forward, we should just remove vaping from this bill completely.”
Some who testified say there is a significant difference between vaping and smoking cigarettes that should be taken into consideration. They also said cigarettes are regulated, but you can buy e-cigarette products online. They are afraid banning the sale of these products to younger people could affect local business.
“If we’re driving this business to the borders, because unfortunately in Rhode Island we don’t have a captive populous, everyone can get to a border,” Elizabeth Saver from the Smoke Free Alternative Trade Association said. “We probably need to make sure we’re not just needlessly harming our local businesses.”
The legislation comes as the Rhode Island Department of Health reports that roughly one in five high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2015. According to the report, high school students used e-cigarettes more than any other tobacco product. The new law would include e-cigarettes and vaping products.