Teens react to legislation raising tobacco-purchasing age to 21
By Joseph LaVigueur, Reporter
For the past several years, an epidemic of underage use of tobacco products and vapes has swept the nation. In 2018, a Monitoring the Future survey found that 37.3 percent of 12th graders reported “vaping” in the past 12 months.
In response, as of Wednesday, March 27, Washington joined eight other states in raising the age to purchase tobacco and vapor products to 21 through House Bill 1074.
Support for the bill comes mainly from those who desire to decrease student access to tobacco and vapor products. The belief is that because 18 year olds are still in high school, they would be able to pass on these products to younger students. Support also comes from the increased risk of addiction and side effects as a result of using these products, due to teens’ still-developing brains. According to the Truth Initiative — a non-profit looking to spread awareness of the risks of tobacco use — most smokers start before the age of 26, and the younger a smoker starts, the more likely they are to become addicted.
The bill passed overwhelmingly in both the state House of Representatives and Senate. The law was signed by the governor on Friday, April 5, and will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
Some underage students who vape support the new legislation, despite being directly affected by it.
“People between 18 and 20 are a rollercoaster of emotion, and restricting their access, even if it’s only a little bit, can help people in the long run,” one underage student who vapes said.
However, many of these same students don’t think the new legislation will be entirely effective.
“I know a lot of people over 21, and all I would need to do is ask [for vapor products],” one underage student said. “I think a lot of people are in similar situations.”
Similarly, some students believe this legislation — had it been passed earlier —would not have stopped them from using nicotine products in the first place.
“It would have happened anyway … due to the people I used to surround myself with when I first started,” one underage student said.
A common criticism of this legislation is that 18-year-olds have adult responsibilities, but are not responsible enough to weigh the risks of using tobacco or vapor products.
“As an adult, you should be able to weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself,” one underage student said.
A large part of the criticism of this legislation is in the way it impacts adults.
In contrast to the first student, other students who are over the age of 18 didn’t support this legislation.
“There’s going to be so much more underage drinking [with] underage [kids] trying to get these products because once you have someone that had that right to [vape] at age 18, they’re going to be very upset,” one 18-year-old student said.
Some students think that the legislation would have stopped them from using vapor products. These anonymous students attributed their use of vapor products mostly to the Juul — a popular vaping device. Furthermore, some students take the potential power of legislation even further, saying that, if enacted earlier, it could have stopped the entire epidemic.
“There would be no reason for the Juul to even come out,” one underage student said. “[The Juul’s] motivation was to go towards these underage kids because it’s sleek, it’s small, [and] you can hide it easy.”
Ultimately, the effectiveness of the legislation will be determined in the coming years with reports from statewide health surveys, such as the Healthy Youth Survey.