The Maine Legislature voted to override Governor Paul LePage’s veto of LD 1170 on Wednesday, raising the legal age to purchase tobacco in Maine from 18 to 21, before adjourning until next session.
Proponents of the measure claim that it will save lives and reduce smoking rates, but Maine’s tobacco use rates, much like the rest of the country, have been on the decline in recent years. Additionally, Maine was given a 95.52 percent compliance rating from the FDA, the second highest in the country, in enforcing existing laws that prevent the sale of tobacco to minors.
The Bangor Daily News penned an op-ed in favor of the bill, citing DHHS data that states “Every day, 3,200 youth under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette.” However, the BDN fails to explain how increasing the purchasing age to 21 will prevent anyone under this artificial age requirement from using tobacco, much like the current threshold of 18 fails to prevent minors from using tobacco.
Gov. LePage has been particularly critical of the bill, and has, in his veto message and multiple radio appearances, accused the Maine Legislature of “social engineering” society in Maine. While appearing on WGAN radio last week, LePage said he does not believe a person is too immature to purchase tobacco if they are legally old enough to enter the military and fight in combat.
In his veto message to lawmakers, LePage expanded on this sentiment. “In addition to the right to vote and serve in our military, our laws provide 18-year-olds the right to marry and divorce and make decisions about medical treatment. The responsibilities to pay taxes and be tried as adults if accused of a crime also come with turning 18. I cannot support legislation that denies the right ot purchase a legal product to those who are otherwise treated as adults.”
The Governor doubled down on this Thursday morning, appearing again on WGAN radio where he insulted lawmakers for their decision to override his veto.
“I think what [the Legislature] has done is say that [18-year-olds] are an adult only to a certain point. I can’t believe that we’re that stupid, but we are what we are,” LePage said.
LePage also quipped that he would propose a law in January that prevents Mainers under the age of 21 from enlisting in the armed forces because of the legislature’s decision. It is unlikely that Maine could legally prevent enlistment of Maine citizens under 21 years of age, and even less likely that LePage will actually propose the measure.
Overriding the veto is a message by Maine lawmakers that they know what is best for individual Maine citizens. Rather than letting adults make their own decisions, the Maine Legislature has decided that 18-year-old Mainers are not responsible enough to decide for themselves whether to use tobacco. However, they can still be married, divorced, legally tried as an adult in a court of law, vote and join the military at the age of 18. This type of nanny state overreach ultimately makes Maine citizens less free.
Additionally, LD 1170’s passage provides additional incentive for Mainers to purchase products in New Hampshire, where there is no sales tax and significantly less taxes on substances like alcohol and tobacco. When Mainers cross the border to make these purchases, the state of Maine is losing out on potential revenue.
With the law’s passage, Maine joins California, Hawaii, New Jersey and Oregon in raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21.