Lawmakers in Idaho are proposing to raise the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21, including on vapor products like electronic cigarettes.
State Sen. Fred Martin, a Republican from Ada County, said Tuesday at a meeting of the Idaho Millennium Fund Committee that he will introduce legislation in the 2018 session raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21, arguing it will prevent youth smoking, which has been declining nationally for years, reports The Coeur d’Alene Press.
Vapor products are included in the age hike, despite containing no tobacco and research showing e-cigarettes are helping longtime smokers ditch the habit. Martin introduced a similar proposal at the end of the 2017 legislative session but the Senate State Affairs Committee voted 5-4 against the age increase.
Members of the Idaho Millennium Fund Committee appeared open to the idea, but stressed the need to direct funds to anti-smoking efforts and not unrelated spending items.
“If we aren’t investing in prevention, especially on this new issue of vaping, I think we’re missing the bus,” Democratic state Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking said Tuesday, according to The Coeur d’Alene Press.
Advocates of the national Tobacco 21 agenda claim that raising the purchasing age for both cigarettes and vapor products will help protect public health, but harm reduction advocates say the policies are having the opposite effect. 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 imposed the Tobacco 21 age hike, 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 plummeting youth smoking and vaping rates across the country.
Nationally, 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, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If Idaho does pass the purchasing proposal in the new year, they will become the sixth state that has raised the tobacco age to 21.
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.
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