How Old Do You Have to Be to Vape?
As of 2018, every state has enacted age restrictions for all products relating to e-cigarettes. In addition, some states have specific laws regarding the sales, taxation and use of e-cigarettes:
• Washington, D.C, West Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota and California tax e-cigarette sales
• Maine, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Utah and Hawaii have banned the use of e-cigarettes within indoor public spaces such as restaurants and bars
• Vermont, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Wyoming and Oregon prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes via self-service displays or vending machines
Age of Legal Purchase
The legal age to buy vaping products differs between states. Data gathered by Northeastern University provided the following list:
• Maine, New Jersey and Oregon require that a person be 21 to purchase e-cigarette products
• Hawaii requires the age of 21 for sale, distribution and use of e-cigarettes
• California requires that a person be 21 to purchase both e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes
• Alaska, Utah and Alabama require the age of 19 to buy and possess e-cigarettes and related products
• The remaining 42 states only require a person to be 18 to purchase e-cigarettes
In most cases, changes in tobacco laws have also affected vaping, although lawmakers, medical experts and public health officials do not agree on the safety of e-cigarettes. It is unclear whether e-cigarettes are a cleaner alternative to tobacco products or are encouraging a new generation to become addicted to nicotine.
Extended exposure to nicotine has been proven to affect the brain for long periods of time, which is why young people should avoid using it. Legal arguments around the vaping age are focused on whether the restriction should apply only to products containing nicotine and not to those without it.
There is a great deal of division among experts regarding age limits for the purchase of e-cigarettes. This is due to a lack of clarity about the overall impact vaping has on society. One factor that is very clear is if parents do not want their children to start vaping, they must set the example and not vape themselves. In many cases, children will take on the habits of their parents, regardless of what those habits are.
Much of the fear regarding teenage addiction to nicotine is connected to the Juul device, which is a portable e-cigarette that uses flavored pods to dispense vapor. The Juul has become a status symbol among teens, who use it at home, at school and on social media.
Many of the teens who have taken up the Juul or other e-cigarette devices and products were not tobacco smokers beforehand. Vaping to be fashionable or cool is often a path to take up standard cigarettes at a later time. This rate of conversion appears to be high for teenagers, who often worry about how they appear to others.
Teens are often not aware of the risks of vaping, which is why parents, schools and medical experts are intervening by lobbying for age restrictions and other regulations. They feel by increasing the purchase age to 21 or making it more difficult to buy Juul and other products, they are discouraging the vaping habit and protecting the health of their children.
Scientific Disagreement About Age Restrictions
Oncology professor David Levy said that legislative attempts to control the sale and consumption of tobacco products, such as age restrictions and higher taxes, should also encourage the use of e-cigarettes over standard cigarettes and other related products.
Weill Cornell Medical School professor and researcher Dr. Michael Pesko has found that age-control policies applying to e-cigarettes may actually be pushing young people toward using tobacco cigarettes. His research indicated a 12 percent increase in standard cigarette use in states that have placed tight age restrictions on e-cigarette products.
The results of Dr. Pesko's study contradict the evidence presented by Stanton Glantz, who is the director of UCSF's Tobacco Research Control and Education Center. The results of Glantz's research found the smoking rates among teenagers remained static or dropped in states with e-cigarette age restrictions. Doctor Glantz has been very vocal for increasing the buying age for tobacco products to 21. His advocacy was fundamental to the state of California changing its purchasing laws, and he continues to push for similar legislation in other states.
Despite the differences in research results and opinion, the bottom line is no one wants teens to take up either vaping or cigarette smoking. Zero nicotine use would be the optimal outcome, although it is likely unrealistic. It is not yet clear whether laws that raise the age limit for e-cigarette and tobacco purchases will stop young people from taking up the smoking habit. Only time will tell.