Raising the vaping age: Will General Assembly deter the latest teen addiction?

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CVille Smoke Shop’s Jim Carlson says if you’re old enough to go to war or vote, you should be able to buy a cigar. Photo by Eze Amos CVille Smoke Shop’s Jim Carlson says if you’re old enough to go to war or vote, you should be able to buy a cigar. Photo by Eze Amos

By Shrey Dua

Daniel Devlin is a 20-year-old UVA student who’s been vaping since he was 18. If Virginia lawmakers get their way, he could soon face civil penalties for pursuing his habit.

Last week, a bill that would raise the age to buy tobacco and vape products from 18 to 21 was passed by both houses of the General Assembly. It’s the latest attempt to curb the vaping trend that has become a mainstay amongst college, high school, and middle school students.

A number of states and more than 400 localities have already raised the vaping age to 21. Last year, the FDA declared the underage use of e-cigarettes an epidemic, and in November it banned sales from convenience stores, as well as fruity flavors. The administration says from 2017 to 2018, there was a 78 percent increase in e-cigarette use among high school students, and a 48 percent increase among middle school students.

People between the ages of 18 and 20 who are currently able to legally purchase vapor and tobacco products would once again be considered underage, and face a $100 fine or community service for the first offense. UVA students in particular would immediately feel the effects of the new law because college students often make up a large proportion of the vaping population.

Devlin believes the legislation is an impractical method for keeping vapes out of underage hands. “If middle schoolers are vaping and addicted to nicotine when the age is 18, then raising the minimum age would only expand the black market for nicotine products,” he says. “The only thing that would change is that people would stop going to 7-Elevens and go to the black market instead.”

But not all students agree. Karim Alkhoja, who is 20 and a third-year at UVA, says there hasn’t been enough research into the effects of vaping, and “if the argument is that at 21 people are more likely to make more evidence-based and common sense decisions, why would we continue to allow the purchasing age for these products to be 18 and not 21?”

Jim Carlson co-owner of the CVille Smoke Shop, which sells a variety of cigars but no vaping products, says he totally disagrees with the proposed legislation. “I don’t think the government should be a babysitter,” he says. “If you’re old enough to vote or go to war, you should be able to buy a cigar. What’s really the difference between being 18 and being 21?”

Dawn Morris, owner of local smoke shop Higher Education, is more open to the change: “Unfortunately I do understand why it’s necessary to raise the age to 21 with all these vape companies and vape juices that are specifically flavored for children,” she says. “No adult is vaping Fruit Loops. Someone needs to protect that situation, and until we can change that, it’s probably a good idea.”

Delegates Rob Bell and Matt Fariss voted against the measure in the House, where it passed 67-41, with the support of delegates Steve Landes and David Toscano. State Senator Bryce Reeves was a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, which passed its own bill 32-89 with the support of Senator Creigh Deeds.

If approved by Governor Ralph Northam, the law could go into effect July 1.

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