About a month into the new decade, 18-year-olds can go to war, go into debt and go to prison, but they can’t be trusted with tobacco.
On Dec. 20, 2019, President Donald Trump signed the Tobacco-21 bill, which prohibits the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 21.
For some, this provision marks a win for public health and combats the growing underage use of nicotine. For others, it is a complicated law that won’t solve the root of the issue.
Oklahoma State senior Jenny Perez believes the bill is “messed up.”
“People can go to war for our country, but they can’t smoke a cigarette,” Perez said.
The Tobacco-21 law is not the first time the government has raised the age of certain vices. In 1984, the government implemented the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which required states to raise the drinking age to 21.
The Drinking Age Act allowed each state to use their own discretion in implementation but imposed an incentive of withholding highway funds until the age was raised. The implementation of the Tobacco-21 law has not been as clear.
The law allows the Food and Drug Administration 180 days to define the regulations and then 90 days for it to go into effect. Contrary to this, the FDA posted on its website that the law is to go into effect immediately.
This has left retailers rushing to retrain employees and update age verification technology, all while being unsure whether the law is being enforced.
“We are doing the 21 [age requirement], and we are miffed that other people aren’t,” said Joseph Richardson, co-owner of The Vapor Crew in Stillwater. “We have turned away a lot of people, already today about five or six.”
The push for a higher purchasing age for tobacco products comes after the outbreak of vaping-related lung illnesses that lead to 57 deaths, according to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the illness was an extreme case, nicotine has been proven to be highly addictive and harmful to an undeveloped brain.
Richardson said he is unsure the law will keep tobacco products out of the hands of minors.
“I agree that there are problems with younger kids getting ahold of vaping stuff, but I mostly blame internet sales,” Richardson said. “Why there are still internet sales, I have no idea.”
Oklahoma State senior Laura Degner argues the age is arbitrary and education is more important when it comes to tobacco.
“It’s silly,” Degner said. “If we are going to pick an age for adulthood, at least be consistent. This is not the conversation we should be having surrounding tobacco. It should be based on education.”
Only time will tell how effective the new Tobacco-21 law will be.