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Tobacco laws smoke 18-year-olds

By Brendan Maher

On Dec. 20, 2019, President Donald Trump signed a new spending bill that included new rules for the sale of tobacco, as well as any product which contains nicotine. Often simply referred to as “T21,” the changing of the tobacco rules in the United States means they now match the regulations regarding alcohol, restricting sale to people over the age of 21, instead of 18.

JUUL Labs, creator of the JUULpod e-cigarette product, supported the alteration of the tobacco laws. (Source: JUUL Labs)

One aim of the new legislation is to disrupt presence of vape products in American high schools. The average age of a high school senior is 17 or 18 years old. In some cases, seniors can be as old as 19 or 20 years old. The presence of students who can legally buy nicotine products can create a pathway for students under 18 years of age to obtain these products. Many of the proponents of the new regulations believe that raising the minimum age will make it more difficult for high schoolers to find a regular source of nicotine.

According to a report by the National Academy of Medicine, raising the smoking age to 21 could save approximately 223,000 lives.

JUUL Labs, one private organization that supported the changing of these laws, is one of the most recognizable producers of e-cigarette products. Their iconic flagship product known simply as a “JUULpod” (pronounced like jewel) has an appearance similar to a flash drive.

The slim rectangular product can easily fit in a pocket, uses disposable flavored cartages, and come in 0.2% and 0.5% nicotine content, depending on the user’s desired strength.

The flavors offered in e-cigarettes are also a point of great controversy. Many anti-nicotine advocates say that candy and fruit flavors are aimed at children. Matthew Meyers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a written statement on the organization’s website that there should be an all-out ban on any flavored e-cigarette product.

Calls to ban flavored nicotine products generally exclude the two flavors traditionally common with cigarettes, which are plain tobacco and menthol.

Some are critical of the new age minimum. Many of the bill’s critics cite the ability for 18- to 20-year old Americans to join the United States military, their requirement to register for selective service, and their eligibility to vote as reasons why they should be permitted to buy tobacco products freely.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 537, 187 people between the ages of 18 and 19 were in the United States Armed Forces in 2008, the most recent year the data was available. Critics argue it is absurd that these young people are unable to purchase tobacco, even after risking their lives for the country.

The regulations specifically do not contain a grandfather clause, which would enable those who turned 18 before Dec. 20, 2019 to purchase tobacco products legally.

The Review reached out to a number of Saint Vincent’s Student Affairs officials as well as Public Safety, to determine if students can expect rule changes to reflect the recent updates to the law, but was unable to make contact.


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