Up in Smoke- Tobacco 21 and Teen Vaping

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Angel Ocampo Salazar, News Editor

Americans teens have always had a habit of picking up rebellious behaviors. For decades, they have turned to smoking as a way to feel edgy and cool, but decades of changing public awareness and government intervention have led to a substantial decline in teen smoking. According to the Center for Disease Control, 5.8% of teens reported being current tobacco smokers, down from 15.8 % in 2011. Some believed that it was possible to end teen smoking before the end of the century; unfortunately these goals now seem more distant than ever because of the increased popularity of e-cigarettes among teens. More and more teens have started smoking e-cigarettes. Approximately 1 out of every 4 high school students reported using an e-cigarette in the past month, according to a CDC study.

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding regulation around the regulation of these products. These products have not been in the public eye for long, so there is a lack of research into their safety, effects on health, and their effectiveness as cessation aids. One of the few things we know about e-cigarettes is that they are a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, but we don’t know if they safe in the long run. Because there is a possibility that these products are effective as cessation aids, the situation warrants regulation of these products and not their removal. Many scientists and politicians proposed solutions to this problem, but none were flawless. Many of these solutions neglected to show the potential value of e-cigarettes or they created a scenario where people would be more likely to switch to normal combustible cigarettes. Some suggested a ban on the flavors of e-cigarettes. Unlike combustible cigarettes, e-cigarettes come in many distinct flavors (like watermelon or strawberry) that draw teens to the practice. Although banning these flavors seems practical, it neglects the use of e-cigarettes as the alternative to combustible cigarettes; if we were to ban e-cigarettes flavors, then there would be little reason for tobacco users to switch over to e-cigarettes, which we know to be safer. Public Health England claims that even though there is uncertainty regarding the safety of these products, they still recommend them as a substitute in all cases for tobacco. There may be good reason for keeping e-cigarettes commercially available, so bans on e-cigarettes or their flavors are not viable.

In the end, U.S. policy makers decided that the most practical solution to enact would be to treat tobacco products like we do marijuana and alcohol. In December, the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KT) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) introduced legislation that would raise the tobacco purchase age to 21 in all U.S. states. The goal of this age change is to limit the number of new high school age tobacco/e-cigarettes users because most of those in high school are under. Most of those who start vaping or smoking in high school get the tobacco products from classmates who could purchase them legally in most states. However, raising the age will prevent this illegal distribution and therefore limit the use. In fact, a report from the National Institute of Health found that the age change could significantly reduce rates of smoking/vaping initiation. The effect of this change will most obviously be on the market of e-cigarettes who just lost a large portion of their demographic: teenagers. The effect on that group specifically is large because some of them had already developed the habit of vaping, and they are effectively being forced to go cold turkey. Nicotine is an addictive chemical found in most tobacco products, and like most addictive substances the process of detoxification is not an easy process without the continued, controlled use of the substance. Many people have shown their discontent with the age change because of this reason. Others feel like they have a right to purchase these products and that they shouldn’t be from them. An article from WLOX gives the example of Tamie Ellison, a 20-year-old smoker who has been the denied the ability to purchase tobacco products. She had been smoking for over 10 years and says that she is “obviously addicted to it” and now she is being forced to quit completely. She knows the effect that withdrawal of nicotine will have consequences on her health and that “you can harm yourself by going cold turkey and you could be hospitalized if you go through withdrawal.”

The road to a tobacco free world is a long one, and no solution will produce the immediate result. Several cultural, economic, and scientific advances need to be made for this to be possible; therefore, the government must recognize these facts when tackling the issue of tobacco and e-cigarettes use.

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