#parents | #teensvaping | Legislation passes to raise minimum age of tobacco, nicotine sale to 21

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A “No Vaping Sign” taken in June 2015 at Starplex Cinema in Dallas, Texas.Congress passed legislation raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products and electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21.

Congress passed legislation raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products and electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Dec. 17, 2019 and the Senate passed it on Dec. 19, 2019. 

Before the bill was passed, over 500 cities within 19 states increased the minimum age to 21. Hawaii and Calif. changed the age in 2016. 

The new legislation went into effect on Wednesday, Jan. 1. This called for every state to raise their minimum tobacco sale age to 21. 

The University of Nevada, Reno—and approximately 1,200 universities and higher education campuses—became a tobacco-free institution in 2015. Despite the university’s policy, students, staff and others consume tobacco or use vapor products outside of designated smoking areas.

Max Coppes, a professor of the university’s School of Medicine, wrote a report on the use of the various products. 

“Electronic cigarettes in various forms have become the most commonly used tobacco product among youth,” Coppes wrote. “With an estimated 3.2 million adolescents vaping and an estimated additional 10 million teens at risk to start using e-cigarettes.”

The Nevada State Legislature defines e-cigarettes as: “… any noncombustible product containing nicotine or any other substance that employs a heating element, power source, electronic circuit or other electronic, chemical or mechanical means, regardless of the shape or size thereof, that can be used to produce vapor from nicotine…”

A 2015 study produced by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded the various ways e-cigarettes and vapor products can cause harm including cancer, respiratory diseases, oral diseases, cardiovascular disease, reproductive harm, and burns. Congress and State Legislatures used this study to justify their reasoning for raising the minimum age of sale.

“… [E]-cigarettes are suspected to attract “low-risk” teens who would otherwise be deterred from combustible tobacco cigarettes because e-cigarettes possess unique attractive qualities that cigarettes lack,” the report said. “Relative to combustible tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarettes are perceived to be healthier, be more socially acceptable, be easier to conceal from authority figures, have appealing flavors, have appealing technological features, lack detectable odors, and be easier to access due to inconsistent restriction of sales to youth.”

The Nevada State Legislature provided a fact sheet outlining the reasoning for the minimum age increase. 

“This is a critical period for growth and development,” the document said. “One during which the brain may be especially susceptible and sensitive to the effects of nicotine. Increasing the minimum legal sale age (MLSA) for tobacco products to 21 would reduce our youth’s access to, and use of tobacco products.” 

The document also states the bill is to act as a deterrent for early age addiction as the earlier a person consumes nicotine, the more likely they are to become reliant on it.

Through the university’s initiative to remain a tobacco-free campus, they have stated they respect the rights of individuals who consume tobacco, but it wants to provide a healthy environment for those who do not consume the substance. The university has reported an estimated 85 percent of campus population is tobacco free.

Sarah Strang can be reached at sstrang@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @sarahstrang100.

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