By Steve Birr
A Republican lawmaker in Florida is proposing legislation to raise the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21, including for vapor products.
Republican state Sen. David Simmons introduced the bill Tuesday in the state legislature, arguing the age increase is, “essential if we are serious about saving lives and reducing the cost of health care.” The proposal would apply to all tobacco products as well as products that only contain nicotine, such as electronic cigarettes, reports the Orlando Sentinel.
Public health experts focused on harm reduction argue that if American cities truly want to promote better lifestyle choices, vaping should not be lumped in with restrictions targeting tobacco. They agree efforts to reduce exposure to cigarette smoke are admirable, but argue those efforts are bolstered by vapor products, devices that are helping millions of smokers ditch the habit.
Vaping advocates also fear the age restriction will actually undermine efforts to reduce smoking rates. Jenny Hoban, an expert in the field of tobacco harm reduction, argues such policy leads to the formation of a black market for tobacco, making access to traditional cigarettes easier for youth who want nicotine.
Only one year after a Massachusetts city raised the tobacco purchasing age to 21, cigarette smoking among 12th graders surged from 9 percent to 33 percent, according a recent editorial by Hoban in the St. Cloud Times. Smoking among 11th graders in Cohasset, Mass. jumped from 6 percent to 19 percent. The rapid increase appears to be directly tied to the increased tobacco age and is starkly contrasted by the national youth smoking rate.
The number of American teens who smoke continues to drop at a historic pace, according to federal data released Dec. 14 showing vaping is now more popular than using tobacco.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future Survey shows reported cigarette use among 12th graders fell to only 4.2 percent this year, down from 24.6 percent in 1997.
If Florida does pass the purchasing proposal in the new year, they will become the sixth state that has raised the tobacco age to 21. Idaho is also considering legislation raising the tobacco purchasing age.
Critics of the Tobacco 21 movement criticize the age hike as a “nanny state” policy, noting young adults can legally serve in the military, vote and marry at the age of 18. Maine Gov. Paul LePage blasted the policy as “social engineering” in July after vetoing similar legislation.
Advocates of smoking alternatives say alarmism over vaping misses the larger point about e-cigarettes; namely, that they are a harm reduction tool helping millions of smokers quit across the country.