As vaping proliferates, state senator seeks to raise legal age to 21

As vaping proliferates, state senator seeks to raise legal age to 21
Juul is now dominating the e-cigarette market. It can be charged with a USB port. Juul doesn’t sell to anyone under 21 on its website and it may require retailers who sell the product to follow suit. THE WASHINGTON POST

Grand Island Central Catholic has implemented a new rule this semester: no flash drives without permission.

Flash drives are fine, but the problem is that they look too much like a brand of e-cigarettes, Juul, the school’s principal says. Juul now dominates the vaping market share.

Juuls are “very, very difficult to detect,” Principal Jordan Engle said. He hears reports “constantly” at the school of 280 students, but no students have been caught using them at the school.

A bill in the Legislature would raise the age for buying vaping products from 18 to 21 in Nebraska, with the goal of mitigating what the FDA calls an “epidemic of youth e-cigarette use.”

Indoor vaping in workplaces and public spaces would also be prohibited if the bill is passed. The definition of “vapor product” would be changed to also include products that don’t contain nicotine.

One in five high school students vape, according to the Wall Street Journal. That’s almost double from a year earlier.

“I think let’s remove it from their hands

so that maybe they won’t be at that risk because we don’t really know what the long-term effects could be,” said State Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island, who introduced Legislative Bill 149.

Quick said young people are often deciding to vape because it’s cool, not because they need the products as an alternative to cigarettes, as they are often marketed.

The FDA said it will limit sales of many flavored e-cigarettes to brick-and-mortar outlets where minors are not allowed or are only allowed in parts of the store. The FDA will also require stepped-up age verification for online sales. Juul restricts sales on its website to those who are at least 21 and may soon do the same in brick-and-mortar stores.

“I’m nervous that people won’t really understand what’s happening until we have an entire generation of kids addicted to nicotine because of e-cigarettes,” Autumn Burns, the Sarpy County coordinator of Tobacco Education & Advocacy of the Midlands, said in November.

A 2017 bill that didn’t gain traction would have raised both the vaping and tobacco age to 21.

This year’s bill would leave the age to smoke and chew tobacco at 18. That baffles Sarah Linden, owner of Generation V E-Cigarettes & Vape Bar’s seven locations in the Omaha area, Lincoln and Davenport, Iowa.

Nicotine-addicted people ages 18 to 21 could only turn to cigarettes, Linden said.

Mark Welsch, the president of the Group to Alleviate Smoking Pollution of Nebraska, said he would like to see the age to use tobacco raised as well. Vaping might be less than 1 percent as unhealthy as smoking tobacco, he said.

“They just don’t have that many chemicals in them,” Welsch said.

Quick said vaping has an appeal to young people that smoking tobacco doesn’t.

“We’re not seeing the same problems (with smoking),” he said.

Unlike cigarettes, Juuls and other vaping products are odorless. E-liquids come in different flavors, often fruity and sweet, and they don’t always contain nicotine. They can be easily charged — Juuls with a USB port. These things add an appeal that smoking tobacco doesn’t have, Quick said.

Linden said the vaping landscape has changed since the 2017 bill, which she testified against. Juul built a brand and “made vaping cool again,” Linden said.

“Most people weren’t ever trying to promote vaping as a cool thing,” she said. “It was just to quit smoking.”

She said Generation V will discourage people from vaping if they haven’t vaped or smoked before.

Quick said his bill would prevent 21-year-olds from selling to or sharing with those underage.

“I get that,” Linden said, but “I think if people want to smoke or vape, they’re going to find a way.”

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