Raising minimum age for tobacco, vape products stirs debate

Raising minimum age for tobacco, vape products stirs debate

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Lawmakers and the Virginia Smoke Free Association are reacting to the proposed bill which could raise the age of buying tobacco and vaping products.

The bill, HB 2748, would raise the minimum age from 18 to 21.

Lawmakers proposed the change following concerns of these products getting the hands of young teens.

It’s a measure that several years ago would never have passed but is now sparking a bi-partisan conversation at the Capitol.

"Probably what helped, and this is a bad thing to help, is just the exponential growth in vaping and how many 18-year-olds will tell you they tried it," said House Speaker Kirk Cox, (R – Colonial Heights).

Easily hidden products are getting into schools and some people say it’s because of 18-year-old seniors.

“One of the problems is they purchase it and then the pipeline to the eighth graders, ninth graders, 10th graders,” Cox said. “I think it would help to dry that pipeline up.”

“We share the desire to put a stop to these products getting the hands of minors through supporting enforcement and the current laws on the books 100%,” said Jay Taylor, president of the Virginia Smoke Free Association.

Taylor believes raising the minimum age isn’t going to change things if the law isn’t being enforced now.

“All it’s going to do is have the impact on adult consumers who are trying to quit combustible tobacco, which we know is killing them, to a less harmful product,” Taylor said.

Instead, Taylor would like to see stronger enforcement. “Increasing fines and penalties to make them more impactful,” he said.

“If you can fight for your country at 18, I think you ought to be able to smoke a cigarette,” said Russell Douglas, who is against the bill.

However, big tobacco companies, like Altria, support the bill.

In a statement the company wrote:

“We agree that the current trends in underage e-vapor use must be promptly addressed. While tobacco use among persons under 18 is at historic lows, underage e-vapor use has increased alarmingly and FDA has characterized this trend as an epidemic. Tobacco harm reduction for adults cannot succeed without effective measures to reduce underage use of all tobacco products. The best approach to achieving this goal is simple: raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21. We fully support the Virginia legislature acting now to raise the minimum age. Taking this important step will address the main way underage youth gain access to tobacco products today – from friends who are of legal age.”

"Anything that will deter smoking on younger kids so they don't get started is a good thing," said Melissa Stevens, who is for the bill.

The bill was introduced by Delegate Chris Stolle and will be discussed at an upcoming Courts of Justice committee meeting.

It would have to be approved by the committee before heading to the House floor for a vote.

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