Virginia governor signs ban on people under 21 buying tobacco

Governor signs bill raising tobacco age to 21

RICHMOND (WWBT/AP) - Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation banning people under 21 from buying tobacco and nicotine products, a measure enacted in a state known historically for its tobacco production.

"This bill represents a significant step forward in addressing one of the Commonwealth's most pressing public health challenges, and I am proud to sign it into law," Governor Northam said Friday.

The bill, signed Thursday, received bipartisan support as it traveled through the House and Senate.

However, Chesterfield Republican Sen. Amanda Chase voted against the bill, saying it strips decision-making power from people who are legally adults.

“We agree with her view on that,” said Jay Taylor, President of the Virginia Smoke Free Association. "We're sad to learn that this law passed."

Taylor supports the current law but adds enforcement of people buying these products needs to be improved.

He's worried when this new law goes into effect later this year there will be unintended consequences for the vape industry.

“This group of individuals between 18 and 21 make up maybe 10% on average of a vape shop’s revenue,” Taylor said. “That puts it right there at that borderline of being profitable or not.”

Speaking of money, Taylor adds the passing of this bill will require businesses to spend green to change their store fronts.

"We have signage all over the place that says 18 or above," he said.

That means all of signs, posters, and advertisements will be tossed as of July 1.

"It's probably going to cost us thousands of dollars to make these switches," Taylor said.

While the bill received bipartisan support, it was also backed by Altria, the nation’s largest tobacco company.

“We agree that the current trends in underage e-vapor use must be addressed,” said a spokesman for Altria. “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 to increase the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products, including e-vapor, to 21.”

Virginia now joins six other states, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine, by raising the minimum age.

"It really surprised me that Virginia did because most of the states are traditionally a little more off-center of what Virginia normally is," Taylor said.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids states more than 400 localities including New York City and Washington D.C. have raised the minimum age as well.

“We fully support the Virginia legislature passing legislation to increase the minimum age and we commend the Governor signing the bill into law,” Altria’s spokesman said. “Taking this important step will address the main way underage youth gain access to tobacco products today – from friends who are of legal age.

E-cigarette company JUUL also released a statement supporting the measure:

We applaud the Commonwealth of Virginia for raising the purchasing age for all tobacco products, including vapor products, to 21 and we hope more lawmakers follow their example at all levels of government across the country.

We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated. Tobacco 21 laws have been shown to dramatically reduce youth smoking rates, which is why we are committed to working with lawmakers to enact these policies to prevent youth access of JUUL and other vapor products.”

The law’s restrictions apply to cigarettes and liquid nicotine used in vaping devices and exempts active-duty military personnel. It curtails sales of tobacco and nicotine products from vending machines considered accessible to people under 21.

Copyright 2019 WWBT. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.