CONCORD — The State Senate approved legislation that would raise the age for using tobacco to 21 to conform with new federal law.
Gov. Chris Sununu declined after the 16-8 vote to endorse the bill, but he did not vow to veto it.
Sununu has asked Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to work with the state’s liquor enforcement agency to determine how to best bring the provisions of the federal law to New Hampshire retail sales.
SB 248 now heads to the House of Representatives.
Last September the Legislature attached to the compromise two-year state budget a provision raising the tobacco age from 18 to 19.
Just before Christmas, the U.S. Congress passed a federal budget compromise of its own that raised the age to 21.
Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said state law enforcement officials have asked lawmakers to make this change.
“We need to bring our state law into conformity to federal law,” Watters said. “We have some reports about confusion from retailers. We have some signs from the state that say 19 and we have the federal law that says 21.”
Sen. Harold French, R-Franklin, led the eight Republicans who opposed the bill largely on philosophical grounds.
“This bill is not about tobacco use. When you get right down to it, this bill is about the rights of legal adults in this state to make choices,” French said.
Sen. Jon Morgan, D-Brentwood, said independent studies estimate that smoking runs New Hampshire $729 million in health care costs and lost productivity.
French said that’s not a proper justification for the bill.
“You have the right to vote; you have the right to join the Armed Services. This is going to cause nothing but problems in the state,” French said.
“Since when do we put a price on the rights of individuals? But we are doing it here.”
Sens. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, and John Reagan, R-Deerfield, joined all 14 Senate Democrats in supporting the measure.
Kate Frey, vice president of advocacy for new Futures, praised the move.
“We know that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking daily before 21 years of age. As youth vaping continues to rise, increasing the tobacco sales age to 21 will go far to keep e-cigarettes and other harmful products out of our schools and away from our kids,” Frey said.