PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Lawmakers are considering a bill that would increase the legal age for purchasing tobacco products in Rhode Island from 18 to 21.
Similar laws have been put in place in 12 other states, including Massachusetts.
On Thursday, Altria, one of the largest companies that sells tobacco products, testified in favor of the bill.
“We are supporting this step because we believe it is the most effective step available to reverse rising underage e-vapor rates,” the company said in a statement.
Juul Labs, known for it’s vaping products, also strongly supports the legislation.
The company argues that the increased age restriction would help curb the increase in teens vaping nationwide.
The vaping company says it is already being proactive in preventing teenagers from having access to their products by restricting the sale of appealing flavors and conducting secret shopper visits at stores nationwide.
“We strongly support raising the purchasing age for all tobacco products, including vapor products, to 21 and have been actively supporting legislation to do this in states across the country and at the federal level,” Ted Kwong, a spokesperson for Juul, said in an email.
Altria hopes the bill will reduce the long-term health effects caused by the products.
“A minimum age of 21 will put tobacco products and electronic cigarettes in line with alcoholic beverages, which have been subject to state minimum age laws of 21 for decades, and in line with cannabis as well,” Altria said in a statement.
Supporters of the bill tell Eyewitness News that the companies’ position is huge, especially since the proposed legislation is strongly worded and could impact the companies’ sales.
Similar versions of this bill have gone through the State House before, but Sen. Cynthia Coyne, the current bill’s sponsor, says this time around there’s much more momentum propelling it forward.
“I think it’s promising if we have some big companies, the manufacturers of this, that are on board. It’s very helpful,” Coyne said. “It makes sense, it’s common sense. We want to keep our kids safe and give them enough time to make mature decisions on how they want to live the rest of their lives.”
Those who are against the bill, including several owners of local smoke and vape shops, also testified.
No vote has been scheduled on the legislation. The House version of the bill has yet to be heard.