Gov. Phil Scott vetoes tobacco legislation that could save lives, reduce addiction

The lawmaker’s decision allows for highly-addictive, kid-friendly flavored tobacco  products to stay on store shelves

The American Heart Association today strongly opposed Gov. Phil Scott’s decision to veto S.18, legislation which would have eliminated the sale of flavored tobacco and prevented thousands of Vermont youth from getting hooked on nicotine.

“The governor’s veto is extremely disappointing,” said Prospero Gogo, M.D., a cardiologist and advocacy committee chair for the American Heart Association-Vermont. “His rationale is that eliminating tobacco and vaping flavors would be inconsistent with other recent policies passed by the state, including legal marijuana and continued availability of flavored alcoholic beverages. The flaw in his argument is that no other legal substance is as addictive and enticing to children, and at the same time causes more suffering, death and cost to Vermonters than inhalational products containing nicotine.

”Signing S.18 into law had the most promise of sparing the state hundreds of millions, or perhaps billions, of dollars in future health care costs while also preventing the scourge of pain and suffering from heart disease, stroke, cancer and lung disease.”

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable cause of death in the U.S. It’s linked to about one third of all deaths from heart disease and 90% of lung cancers. More than 1,000 Vermonters die each year due to smoking.

Tina Zuk, Vermont Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association, a global force for longer, healthier lives, issued the following statement today in response to Governor Scott’s veto:

“We’re devastated for Vermont kids that Gov. Scott’s decision put Big Tobacco first. This legislation gave him the opportunity to be a true leader in prevention, to protect public health and to send a message to tobacco companies that our state lawmakers prioritize public health over industry profits. Instead, his veto today will undoubtedly have a profoundly negative impact on the health of Vermont kids and schools.”

“Already, middle schoolers were the largest growing group of vape users, 23% of Vermont high school seniors vape and school officials testified to the significant impact on education flavored tobacco has had as addicted students continually leave classrooms and lose valuable class time because of these highly addictive products.

“The governor appears to have ignored alarming testimony by the Vermont State School Nurses Association that for many Vermont students, addiction to nicotine products has become the priority. Kids are scared and want help and are frightened to feel short of breath and have their hearts racing.

“Flavors, which come in thousands of varieties via e-cigarettes, also appeal to kids. And with e-cigarette use on the rise among our youngest generation, failing to pass this legislation means Big Tobacco continues to hook young people into a lifetime of addiction.

“The price tag of tobacco use in Vermont is also reason enough for the governor to have enacted this important prevention bill. Vermont spends $404 million annually treating tobacco-caused diseases, including $93 million in direct Medicaid expenditures.

“Weeks of testimony before the Vermont legislature on this issue included that the cost of treating coronary heart disease in hospitalized patients in one year at the University of Vermont Medical Center was close to $35 million, with half of coronary heart disease patients being current or former smokers. Tobacco-associated cancer costs the state’s health insurance payors $188 million each year. These costs far exceed the annual tobacco tax revenue Vermont receives of $75 million.

“S.18 would have saved money, saved lives and prevented suffering. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in our nation and is linked to about one-third of all deaths from heart disease and 90% of lung cancers. This legislation could have prevented thousands of Vermonters from experiencing tobacco- and nicotine-related diseases and early death.

“While the American Heart Association-Vermont is disheartened by the decision, we remain committed to prioritizing the well-being of all Vermonters and safeguarding the health of our communities so everyone can thrive. We will continue to advocate to remove all flavored tobacco products from the marketplace.”