(April 12, 2019) Although still awaiting Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature, a new law passed by the General Assembly last week increases the minimum age to 21 to buy tobacco or vaping products unless the purchaser is an active duty member of the military over 18.
The Senate passed SB 895 last Tuesday by a 32-13 vote, with the House following suit the next day by a 101-35 tally.
If the bill is approved by Hogan, which was passed by a veto proof margin greater than two thirds, the revised regulations become effective beginning this October. The legislation would authorize the Maryland Department of Health to conduct unannounced inspections of licensed retailers.
Included in the bill language is new terminology for vaping devices, which previously were called electronic nicotine delivery systems and would now be referred to as electronic smoking devices.
Under the new provisions Maryland retailers would be forbidden to sell tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff and snus, to patrons under 21. Included in the electronic smoking devices category are vape pens, parts and e-juice, regardless of nicotine content, as well as electronic: cigarettes, cigars, pipes and hookahs.
Additionally, the bill forbids sales of cigarette filter and rolling papers to anyone under 21 years of age.
The bill gained traction with Republicans after Sen. Michael Hough (R-4 Frederick/Carroll) proposed an amendment exempting active duty military, who would be allowed to buy tobacco or vape products at the age of 18 with military issued identification.
Vending machines with tobacco products would be restricted to establishments that prohibit patrons under 21, and would not be allowed to accept currency directly, instead requiring a token purchased for that end from the retailer.
Merchants caught violating the age restriction would be fined $300 for the first offense, with a second offense within two years climbing to $1,000, while third or subsequent violations within a two-year period are set at $3,000. Violations of the vending machine statues are subject to a maximum fine of $100.
According to the website Tobacco21.org, Maryland’s smoking rate for high school students and adults hovers around national averages, which could place roughly 92,00 children currently under 18 years of age on a path to die prematurely.
At present 11 states have established a minimum age of 21 to purchase tobacco or vape products, which include: Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Virginia. Washington, D.C. has also passed similar restrictions.