State To Shrink Access To Vapor Products By Treating Devices Like Cigarettes

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

New rules cracking down on electronic cigarettes are coming to residents of Oregon in 2018 that vaping advocates say will make it harder to quit smoking.

The tobacco purchasing age will rise from 18 to 21 statewide in Oregon Jan. 1, making it the fifth state in the U.S. to adopt the agenda of groups like Tobacco 21. The age hike will include all vapor products, devices that heat liquid nicotine and do not contain any tobacco, over misplaced fears the products are serving as a gateway to smoking for young Americans, reports The Bulletin.

State lawmakers passed the measure in the summer and Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law Aug. 9. Officials delayed enforcement until the new year to give the public time to adjust to the shift.

Advocates of the national Tobacco 21 agenda claim that raising the purchasing age for both cigarettes and vapor products will help protect public health, but harm reduction advocates say the policies are having the opposite effect. Jenny Hoban, an expert in the field of tobacco harm reduction, argues such policy leads to the formation of a black market for tobacco, making access to traditional cigarettes easier for youth who want nicotine.

Only one year after a Massachusetts city imposed the Tobacco 21 age hike, cigarette smoking among 12th graders surged from 9 percent to 33 percent, according a recent editorial by Hoban in the St. Cloud Times.

Smoking among 11th graders in Cohasset, Mass. jumped from 6 percent to 19 percent. The rapid increase appears to be directly tied to the increased tobacco age and is starkly contrasted by plummeting youth smoking and vaping rates across the country. Nationally, the number of teens using any tobacco product declined from 4.7 million to 3.9 million and the number of middle school and high school students who use a vaping device dropped from 3 million to 2.2 million in 2016, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“T21 campaign aims to funnel newly restricted smokers and vapers back to low (6-8 percent) success-rate pharmaceutical nicotine replacement therapy products,” Hoban, vice president for THR4Life, an advocacy group helping smokers quit, said in the editorial. “While these products work for some, they fail the majority of smokers. For youth prevention to be truly effective, it must be carried out in tandem with efforts that aim to support adult smokers who are trying to quit. Resources ought to be focused on accurate, education-based approach rather than trying to social-engineer behavior through strategies that have a history of failure.”

Ample research proves that vaping devices drastically reduce the harm caused by cigarettes, because the majority of cancer-causing chemicals are released through combustion of tobacco. Public health experts agree that efforts to reduce tobacco use are admirable; however, they argue those efforts are bolstered, not undermined, by vaping devices.

For young adult smokers, these policies cut off their access to a more effective cessation method, forcing them instead to either keep smoking or use federally approved cessation products like patches and gum.

Advocates of smoking alternatives say alarmism over vaping misses the larger point about e-cigarettes; namely, that they are a harm reduction tool helping millions of smokers quit across the country.

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Steve Birr

Vice Reporter

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