The Connecticut General Assembly is considering a bill that would raise the legal age for buying and using tobacco products from 18 to 21.
In the latest state-by-state look at tobacco control by the American Lung Association, Connecticut received a "D" grade, including a big fat "F" for spending nothing on smoking cessation programs, despite receiving more than $517 million from the federal tobacco settlement and from tobacco sales taxes.
Connecticut also got an "F" for not raising the legal age for tobacco sales to 21.
The General Assembly's Public Health Committee heard public testimony Friday on a bill that would raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. Democratic state Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey testified in favor of the bill, telling the committee that smokers between the age of 18 to 21 are particularly vulnerable to becoming daily smokers as adults.
"While less than half of adult smokers become regular daily smokers before age 18, four out of five become regular daily smokers before they turn 21," McCarthy Vahey told the committee.
But Public Health Committee member, Republican State Rep. Jason Perillo wondered why 18-year-olds should be restricted from buying tobacco, when they are allowed to vote and join the military. McCarthy Vahey said the comparison is not applicable in this situation.
"They are very different things. Nicotine, as a substance, has a different impact on a developing brain than it does for someone who is 25," said McCarthy Vahey. "The adolescent brain is more vulnerable to the effects of nicotine."
According to the Connecticut Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, 10.3 percent of Connecticut high school students smoke, and 1,500 kids under the age of 18 become new daily smokers each year in Connecticut.
A 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 75 percent of all Americans, and 70 percent of all smokers support raising the age to 21. If the bill becomes law, Connecticut would be the third state behind California and Hawaii to raise the age of tobacco sales to 21.