ANNAPOLIS – Every day, anti-tobacco activists say, 60 Maryland children start smoking. Their average age is 12. In the United States, the average age at which a child first lights up is 14.
Availability accounts for the difference, say lawmakers seeking to ban vending machine sales of tobacco.
Martin Wasserman, secretary of the Maryland department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told the House Environmental Matters Committee Tuesday that 95 percent of children who attempt to buy tobacco products from vending machines succeed.
“This is the bill this session that would go furthest to protect young people,” Wasserman said. “It may be a minor inconvenience to adults, but it would be a major deterrent to young people.”
While the Tobacco Institute and the MD/DC Vending Association opposed the legislation, Wasserman was joined in his support by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., the American Lung Association of Maryland, the American Heart Association of Maryland and Barry Scher, vice president of Giant Food.
Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County and a co-sponsor of the bill, said nothing would be lost by eliminating tobacco vending machines but the addiction of minors.
“We would consider it irresponsible to sell beer, wine or liquor from vending machines, because our common sense tells us that it would make it too easy for children to buy alcohol,” Morhaim, who is a physician, testified.
“We do not believe that 12 year-old children have the maturity to handle the responsibilities that come with alcohol consumption. Yet the tobacco lobbyists will tell you that there’s nothing wrong with making tobacco … easily and readily available to our children.”
William Pitcher, a lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute, testified that U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations going into effect in August will ban all tobacco vending machines.
“Those regulations are going forward,” Pitcher said. “This legislation is not appropriate until that issue is settled on the federal level.”
Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist for the MD/DC Vending Association, said that in addition to the federal regulations, the state would lose $1.5 million in taxes were the bill to become law.
“This bill is extreme, unwanted and unnecessary,” Bereano said.
But Del. James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, a member of the committee, countered Bereano’s figures.
“What is $1.5 million when we have $1.5 billion in the health care budget for tobacco-related illness?” Hubbard asked.
Del. Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s and another co- sponsor, said the legislation would probably get a favorable report from the committee.
“Many people on my committee are of good conscience,” Frush said. “I truly think they will be able to get this bill out this year.” -30-