‘You Can Go To War’: State Tobacco Age Hike Ignites Fiery Debate Over Vaping Rights

Steve Birr | Contributor

On New Year’s Day Oregon became the fifth state to raise the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21, but small business owners are blasting the decision as an extreme overreach of government.

Offenders of the new law, which is part of the national Tobacco 21 agenda, are subject to fines ranging from $50 to $1000. The age hike includes 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 Fox 6 Now.

Opponents of the Tobacco 21 movement criticize the age hike as a “nanny state” policy that infringes on the rights of young adults. Maine Gov. Paul LePage blasted the policy as “social engineering” in July after vetoing similar legislation, before being overrules by the state legislature.

“If you can go to war, you can vote, you can do all that, you wait till you turn 18 to get some type of freedom and they want to take it away from you,” Troy Wines, a regular at a small business tobacco shop in Beaverton, told Fox 6 Now. “I don’t think it’s right.”

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 critics argue young adults will find a way to get their hands on the products regardless of the law.

“Just have a friend pick it up,” an unnamed 18-year-old customer at a tobacco shop told Fox 6 Now on New Year’s Eve. “I mean, it’s not gonna change anything for anyone who smokes. It’s not like you want to stop because it’s illegal now.”

Vaping advocates note Tobacco 21 policies put e-cigarettes and combustible tobacco in the same category, falsely suggesting to young adults that the products carry the same risk. They also question the necessity of such a policy given that federal data released Dec. 14 shows the number of American teens who smoke continues to drop at a historic pace. Vaping is now more popular than using tobacco among young adults in the U.S.

Public health experts focused on harm reduction argue that if states and localities truly want to promote better lifestyle choices, vaping should not be lumped in with restrictions targeting tobacco. They agree efforts to reduce exposure to cigarette smoke are admirable, but argue those efforts are bolstered by vapor products.

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Steve Birr

Contributor

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