Raise the age to 21 and keep teens from buying e-cigs

Washington state lawmakers are considering legislation that would raise the age to buy e-cigarettes from 18 to 21.
Washington state lawmakers are considering legislation that would raise the age to buy e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. Staff

The use of electronic cigarettes is skyrocketing among U.S. teens, and state House members who voted to raise the legal age to buy these products have made the right call.

House Bill 1074 would change the minimum age to buy cigarettes and vaping products from 18 to 21. The bill made it through the House by a vote of 66-30, and we hope this measure — or something very much like it — makes it out of the Legislature and becomes law.

New data released last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affirmed an alarming, continued surge in the use of e-cigarettes by teenagers. Any step that helps curtail this upward trend is worth a try.

The report said that more than 3.6 million middle school and high school students were users of e-cigarettes in 2018, which is an increase of 1.5 million students from the year before.

Officials with the Federal Drug Administration blame the rising numbers on the popularity of certain kinds of e-cigarettes, especially JUUL, which looks like a USB flash drive and comes in enticing flavors. Kids can plug it into their laptops to charge, and unknowing adults will have no idea it’s really an e-cigarette.

Under FDA pressure, manufacturers of JUUL and other vaping devices have stepped up efforts to keep kids from getting a hold of their products, but these attempts only can go so far.

It is still too easy for an 18-year-old high school senior to legally buy e-cigarettes and introduce the fixation to younger students.

Thanks to decades of prevention efforts, most kids are aware of the dangers of smoking regular cigarettes. There also is a social stigma attached to it.

But that stigma does not seem to apply to vaping. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Touted as a way to help adult smokers kick their habit, vaping is seen by many teens as acceptable and cool.

E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that heat a nicotine solution, producing vapors the user inhales. Unlike cigarette smoke, these vapors smell good, which is probably a reason vaping is so attractive to kids.

But the dangers are real.

One JUUL pod, for example, contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes.

According to the CDC, nicotine is harmful to the developing adolescent brain, and can affect parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control. Anyone who has spent time around teenagers knows they need as many healthy brain cells as possible.

There also is some evidence that teens who start out vaping are more likely to smoke cigarettes later in life, according to the CDC.

An increase in lung cancer and emphysema cases caused by smoking or second-hand smoke is not what we want for our kids’ future.

Opponents to raising the age to buy tobacco products will say that if 18-year-olds can be sent to war, then they should be allowed to buy cigarettes of all varieties.

It’s a reasonable argument, but the new, dramatic rise of e-cigarette use at the middle and high school levels changes the conversation.

The FDA has called the situation an epidemic, and health epidemics are not something society should ignore.

If people have to wait until age 21 to buy alcohol and marijuana, then — for the sake of public health — it makes sense to be consistent and add cigarettes and vaping devices to the list.

E-cigarettes should be used by adults looking for an alternative to smoking regular cigarettes — not by kids looking to inhale nicotine.