The Vermont Senate has rejected an effort to raise the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. The bill was defeated by three votes.
The debate pitted public health issues against the rights of 18-year-olds.
Proponents said the proposal was a major public health initiative that would save thousands of lives in the future because smoking rates would be reduced.
One key goal of the legislation was to keep tobacco products out of the hands of young teenagers.
Chittenden Sen. Debbie Ingram said it's critical to do this because teenage brains are more susceptible to addictive products like nicotine.
"So by leaving the age at 18, we're really allowing 14-, 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds to have access because they have friends who are 18," said Ingram.
But Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning said it's unfair to ask an 18-year-old to go to war and then prohibit them from buying cigarettes.
“While I abhor personally the idea of someone smoking at any age, it would make far more sense to me to ban smoking period than it would be to deprive a certain segment of our population the right to do so because we feel they don't have the ability to make the decision for themselves," said Benning.
The bill had been strongly supported by the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Vermont, an organization representing a number of health care groups throughout the state.