The Maine Senate overwhelmingly supported a bill Thursday that would raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The measure still requires an initial vote in the House, as well as additional votes in both chambers before it could be sent to the governor, who might veto it because it could mean lost revenue.

If the bill becomes law, though, Maine would be just the third state, after Hawaii and California, to raise its minimum purchasing age to 21. People ages 18 to 20 would still be allowed to smoke or use other tobacco products

The vote in the Senate was 31-4, well above the two-thirds support needed to override a veto. The House could take the bill up as early as Friday. LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment about his position on the bill.

The bill was amended Thursday to allow anyone who is 18 as of July 2018 to buy products.

Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, the bill’s sponsor, testified during the public hearing last month that he has been affected personally by tobacco going back to his military service decades ago. He said he wanted to help prevent young people from starting in the first place.

“Tobacco is the only product that, when used as intended, causes addiction, disease and death,” he said. “When I left the Army, I was heavily addicted to tobacco, smoking two packs a day. Tobacco has also tragically affected my family. I lost both my father and brother to lung cancer.”

Sen. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, shared a story Thursday on the Senate floor about being addicted to smoking for many years. He said he tried to quit multiple times without success. Then one Christmas, he asked his then-13-year-old daughter for gift ideas. She told him she wanted him to quit smoking. He finally did.

Although support was strong in the Senate, not everyone was on board.

Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, said he viewed the bill as another example of a “nanny state” regulation and criticized fellow Republicans for supporting it.

“As one of the younger members of this body, I will say that the perception that younger adults are children, incapable of making the same decisions for themselves – decisions that all other adult Maine people are allowed to make for themselves – without the help of nanny government is insulting,” Brakey said. “If you only have the freedom to make good decisions, do you have any freedom at all?”

During the public hearing last month, opponents worried about potential lost revenue. The bill’s original fiscal note projected that the loss could total more than $8 million over the next two years. The amendment that passed Thursday to adjust the date when the minimum-age change would take place reduced that to about $106,000.

Shelley Doak, representing the Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association, was among those who said the state could lose revenue, perhaps to bordering states such as Massachusetts or New Hampshire, where the minimum age remains 18. She also said consumers could get around the new regulation by purchasing tobacco products online.

“Limiting youth access is a laudable goal, but there are unintended consequences of increasing the age from 18 to 21 to purchase tobacco products,” Doak testified. “It creates a variance setting Maine apart and likely diverting business activity across the border or to online retailers. Face-to-face transactions, products behind the counter, products locked in cases, extensive employee training and point-of-sale software to ensure that tobacco products are only sold to age-eligible adults (are) … likely not employed through Internet sales.”

The Retail Association of Maine also opposed the bill for similar reasons.

Although only two states have increased the minimum age to 21, more than 200 individual communities have passed local laws to do so. Last year, Portland became the first city in Maine to increase the age to 21.

Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, a retired physician, said increasing the age is a logical incremental step.

“I think we have a right, and indeed an obligation, to warn people against the dangers and to make it just a little harder for people to get started,” Gratwick said.

Lance Boucher, representing the American Lung Association in Maine, said last month that the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids estimates that there are 27,000 youths under the age of 18 in Maine who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking. He said studies by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that adults, even smokers, overwhelmingly support an increase in the minimum age.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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