States Push to Making Vaping & Smoking 21+

If North Carolina House members get their way, the smoking and vaping age in the state may be increased to 21.

Greensboro News and Record is reporting that a new bill, House Bill 435, which you can read in full here, would raise the state age for smoking and vaping from 18 to 21, starting on January 1, 2021. This bill would require all tobacco and vaping customers to be at least 21 years of age to buy anything tobacco or vaping-related, including cigarettes, vape mods, vape liquids, and cigarette wrapping papers. It also addresses the types of fines that retailers and wholesalers could potentially face if caught selling these products to anyone under the age of 21 and amends punishments for those under the age of 21 that are caught trying to buy tobacco and vape products.

The bill, which passed its first reading in the North Carolina General Assembly and has been referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House for a scheduled debate has four primary sponsors. They are Representatives Gregory Murphy, M.D., Republican-Pitt; Bert Jones, Republican-Caswell and Rockingham; Donny Lambeth, Republican-Forsyth; and Holly Grange, Republican-New Hanover. Four additional representatives have added their support since the bill was filed in late March. The bill can be read here.

State representative Donny Lambeth is the bill’s primary sponsor; he is also the former president of N.C. Baptist Hospital and has consistently received political contributions for medical and health care related organizations. He stated in an interview that the bill was personal for him as well as practical: his mother died from lung cancer.

“When she started smoking at a young age, there was little warning about the risk of smoking to your health,” Lambeth went on to say. “Smoking in North Carolina represents the single largest factor in preventable deaths. Many older people who smoke started in their teen years. Many of them have told me they wish they had not even started.”

HB 435 may come as a surprise for many smokers and vapers in North Carolina; the state has a long and deep tobacco heritage, one that still permeates today. In fact, according to NC Global Economy, tobacco companies have a major foothold in the state’s economy; Lorillard, Inc., Reynolds American, Liggett Vector Brands, and Imperial Tobacco all employ large numbers of people in the state and play a role in cigarette manufacturing.

Still, there have been waves of change when it comes to smoking and vaping ages in the country. In 2016, both California and Hawaii’s state legislatures chose to raise the minimum age to 21. Four other states have followed but only raised the age to 19.

There are an additional 24 states, including North Carolina, that have recently introduced bills during legislative sessions that would raise the tobacco and vape-use age to 21. The efforts in states such as Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, and Utah have already failed to pass both houses; bills in Oregon and Vermont are currently in limbo, as the bills have passed one house and not the other.

In total, 47 states have passed age restrictions on vape products. Most of these restrictions have made the minimum age 18, but some are as high as 21. Reynolds, a tobacco company that has interests in North Carolina, supported the law that the state put into place for vapers.

The FDA is currently recommending a nationwide ban on selling vape products to people younger than 18. This is thought to be because of a U.S. Surgeon General’s Office report that falsely claimed that vaping is a “gateway to smoking.” There is no evidence to suggest this claim, and in fact, there is plenty of research supporting that the opposite is true: vaping stops young people from smoking traditional cigarettes.

This publication believes that the HB 435 should be grandfathered in for vaping, allowing vapers who are between the ages of 18 and 21 who have access to the products now to continue to do so. To take away this right would put many teens and young adults who are trying to quit smoking in the difficult position of not having access to the smoking cessation method that works best for them.

However, the bill has yet to be brought to the floor in either house, so how the bill becomes law and if vaping can be grandfathered in is still up in the air. This publication is hopeful that a grandfather clause will be implemented if the bill becomes law.

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