Teens E-Cigarettes

In this April 23, 2014 file photo, an e-cigarette is demonstrated in Chicago.

In the hopes of keeping more young people from becoming tobacco users, Pennsylvania is raising the age limit from 18 to 21 for buying tobacco products – including for use in vaping.

The legislation – passed Nov. 21 by the state House and Senate and signed by Gov. Wolf before Thanksgiving – takes effect July 1, 2020.

The move is in response to the recent surge in serious health problems linked to e-cigarettes and vaping, which are popular among teen smokers.

The state also adopted a law that bars students from possessing or using vaping products on school properties. Most districts had already prohibited tobacco use on their campuses. But the rise in popularity of vaping – tobacco used through flavored vapor produced by electronic cigarettes or devices rather than by inhaling smoke – had seemingly provided a loophole.

The Truth Initiative, an anti-smoking organization, says 11.3% of high school students in Pennsylvania reported using electronic vapor products at least once in the past 30 days in a 2017 survey.

That’s compared 8.7% of Pennsylvania high school students who had smoked cigarettes.

“As the availability and appeal of e-cigarettes has increased in particular, the rates of high school-age children vaping has increased 40% in just one year,” said state Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Northampton. “Twenty-four percent of Pennsylvania high school teens use e-cigarettes, driving up overall youth smoking rates to over 32%.

“It’s clear that we have to act.”

Lawmakers who supported the change point to reports showing that most adult smokers got started as teenagers.

“Numerous studies have shown tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes, are particularly harmful and addictive to youths and young adults,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in signing the law. “Raising the age to 21 in combination with barring e-cigarettes at our schools will help us prevent young Pennsylvanians from engaging in this dangerous behavior.”

The new age limit will apply to smokeless tobacco, used by 6% of students in the past 30 days, according to the Truth Initiative.

Pennsylvania is the 22nd state to move the tobacco-buying age limit to 21. All states should follow suit.

However, we do not support Pennsylvania’s exception for those serving in the military, who can continue to purchase tobacco products beginning at age 18.

Supporters argue that a person old enough to make the decision to serve is old enough to make a decision about using tobacco.

We would counter that no such exemption exists for purchasing alcohol. And military service does not protect an individual from the harmful or addictive nature of tobacco use.

But this issue is really about harmful choices.

Ultimately, we would hope that the enormous amount of information available and educational efforts out there would drive young people away from tobacco.

But the vaping trend has changed the game, and we support this effort to help keep young people off that dangerous path. 

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