Vaping shops are struggling to stay afloat under mounting financial losses stemming from a hike in the legal tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 in Chicago.
Lawmakers in the city enacted the restrictions in July 2016, arguing the age hike will serve to protect teens from being initiated into tobacco addiction. Officials say it will help Chicago achieve the goal of a “tobacco-free generation,” but critics are blasting the proposal as government overreach into the lives of adults that only serves to cripple small business retailers who rely on sales from these products, reports the Chicago Tribune.
The tobacco restrictions also apply to electronic cigarettes, nicotine-based products that do not contain tobacco and are proven to be effective tools for quitting smoking
“We used to service all of the population,” Cody Recto, general manager at All in One Smoke Shop in Edgewater, told the Chicago Tribune. “We lost a significant amount of business.”
Critics are questioning the necessity of such restrictions, pointing to consistent drops in the youth smoking rate for years. The number of teens using any tobacco product declined from 4.7 million to 3.9 million and the number of middle school and high school students who use a vaping device dropped from 3 million to 2.2 million in 2016.
Some in Chicago are also concerned with the untended consequences the tobacco age shift is having on the community. Mike Males, a researcher for the California-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice says the rule may be reducing job opportunities for teens.
“Eighteen- to 21-year-olds don’t have a problem with smoking, but they do have a problem with unemployment,” Males told the Chicago Tribune. “I think it’s time for the public health movement to back off. Normally when things are going this well … you’d leave it alone.”
A number of localities across the country are currently attempting to raise the legal purchasing age for tobacco products. The most recent efforts are in Texas, where officials with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District are encouraging lawmakers to adopt a proposal, called Tobacco 21, which is currently in place in five states and 250 cities across the country.
All vapor products are included in the restrictions under the Tobacco 21 plan, despite their utility as a smoking cessation tool.
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