Tobacco 21 Agenda Continues To Sweep Across The US

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

The movement to increase the purchasing age for tobacco products continues to sweep across the country, which vaping advocates say will be detrimental to public health.

The editorial board for the Washington state publication The Columbian threw its support behind the Tobacco 21 movement in an article Monday, urging state lawmakers to raise the purchasing age in the new legislative session. The paper argues that Washington lawmakers’ current addiction to tobacco revenue is putting the public health of young state residents at risk, reports Herald Net.

While the state will take a revenue hit in the short run under a purchasing age hike, the editorial board argues those costs will be recouped in the long run by reducing annual medical costs to the state. Unfortunately, under state tobacco definitions, vapor products like electronic cigarettes get lumped in with restrictions targeting smoking, despite containing no tobacco.

“As legislators return to work this week for the start of the 2018 session, they should break that addiction and raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21,” says The Columbian Editorial Board. “Not that addictions are easily snubbed out. For some lawmakers, dissent is a question of personal freedom and allowing would-be smokers to make their own decisions — regardless of how harmful those decisions might be.”

Opponents of the Tobacco 21 movement criticize age hikes as a “nanny state” policy that infringes on the rights of young adults. Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage blasted the policy as “social engineering” in July after vetoing similar legislation, before being overruled by the state legislature.

Many public health experts are also highly critical of age hikes because the policies do not differentiate between tobacco and e-cigarettes, and their respective health profiles. The lack of any distinction falsely suggests to young adults that the products carry the same risk, at a time when a growing body of research shows vaping devices drastically cut harms from combustible cigarettes.

Scientists at the University of Catania in Italy recently conducted a three-year study investigating the effects of regular vaping on the body of the user, finding “no evidence of health concerns associated with long-term use of e-cigarettes” on blood pressure, heart rate, body weight, lung function, respiratory symptoms, exhaled breath nitric oxide and exhaled carbon monoxide.

Lawmakers, however, do not appear to be leaning on the research as they craft their policies. On New Year’s Day, Oregon became the fifth state to raise the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21, outraging small business owners in the state.

Officials in Oregon cited misplaced fears the products are serving as a gateway to smoking for young Americans. The Columbian Editorial Board similarly warns that companies are working to create new smokers.

While the media is saturated with coverage claiming vaping is serving as a “gateway” to cigarettes for teens, youth smoking is plummeting to record lows.

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future Survey, released Dec. 14, shows reported cigarette use among 12th graders fell to 4.2 percent this year, down from 24.6 percent in 1997, even as the number of youth experimenting with vaping devices increased.

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