Increased age to buy tobacco, vaping products among new Connecticut laws

HARTFORD, Connecticut -- Sales tax changes, new safe gun storage rules, and a new minimum age to purchase tobacco and vaping products are among a host of new laws that took effect in Connecticut Tuesday.

October also kicked off with the first of several planned increases to Connecticut's minimum wage, which is scheduled to incrementally climb to $15 an hour by June 1, 2023. The wage increased from $10.10 to $11 an hour Tuesday.

"This is perhaps one of the most impactful pieces of legislation for working families that a governor can sign," Governor Ned Lamont said in May when he signed the minimum wage legislation into law. The wage increase is expected to impact approximately 130,000 workers this year.

A new 1% meals tax included in the new, two-year $43 billion budget crafted by Democrats earlier this year has already received some of the greatest scrutiny. Concerns were raised by minority Republicans and later by many majority Democrats about how broadly the Department of Revenue Services was interpreting tax change.

At Lamont's request, DRS recently issued a new memo clarifying that prepared meals sold in grocery stores that were already subject to the 6.35% sales tax would be taxed at 7.35%, not additional items such as loose muffins or containers of lettuce. Republicans have argued they still want a special legislative session held to change the underlying law.

Here are highlights of the new laws taking effect:

TAX CHANGES

Besides the new meals tax, consumers can expect to pay a higher tax on certain digital goods. The tax on things like streaming services, electronic books, certain software downloads and ring tones increased from 1% to 6.35%, the state's standard sales tax rate.

Lamont had originally proposed a long list of goods and services that should be taxed at the full rate, arguing for the need to "modernize" the state's sales tax. Ultimately, the list was whittled down to a handful of services in the final state budget, including parking in certain lots, dry cleaning and laundry services, and interior design services.

While the tax on alcoholic beverages except beer increased by 10%, the tax on beer produced by craft breweries was cut in half. The tax on dyed diesel fuel sold for marine purposes dropped from 6.35% to 2.99%.

The motor vehicle trade-in fee that new and used car dealers are charged on each vehicle they accept as a trade-in increased from $35 to $100.

TOBACCO AND VAPING

Purchasers of tobacco products, e-cigarettes and vaping products now have to be 21 years old in Connecticut.

Besides raising the age, a new law that took effect on Tuesday increases annual license fees for cigarette dealers from $50 to $200 and from $400 to $800 for e-cigarette dealers. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is allowed to conduct unannounced checks to make sure e-cigarette dealers are not selling to underage individuals. Tougher financial penalties for violators also took effect.

"Many decades ago when most of our laws surrounding tobacco products were written, the medical evidence on the impact the substance has, particularly on young people and the ongoing development of their brains, did not exist," Lamont said. "Continuing the enforcement of outdated laws just because that's the way it's always been is not a good enough reason for why they should continue to reflect outdated perceptions. With the rising use of e-cigarettes and vaping products among young people, we are seeing a growing public health crisis and it's time that we addressed it."

The new law also bans smoking and e-cigarettes on the grounds of child care centers and schools.

Max Reiss, a spokesman for Lamont, has said the administration is reviewing what, if anything, Lamont can do to further restrict vaping, given a growing number of vaping-related lung illnesses in Connecticut. Lamont doesn't have the same executive power as some other governors who've called for bans.

"So what we're doing is we're exploring what are the emergency powers of the governor when it comes to something like this," Reiss said. "And if it needs to be done in a special session that's something he's looking at."

GUN LAW CHANGES

Three bills that passed on mostly bipartisan votes that attempt to toughen Connecticut's gun laws took effect Tuesday.

One stems from the death of Ethan Song, a Guilford 15-year-old who accidentally shot himself with a handgun owned by a friend's father. The new law requires loaded and unloaded firearms to be safely stored in homes where there are minors under age 18.

The Hartford Courant reported Monday that Song's family, who played a key role in passing the new safe storage law, settled a lawsuit against the gun's owner for $1 million.

A second new law requires handguns left in an unattended vehicle to be stored in a trunk, locked safe or locked glove box and prohibiting unmarked. The third new law bars untraceable weapons known as ghost guns.

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