LIMA — Tobacco and vaping products will no longer be sold to Ohioans under 21 years old, as the state rolls out new restrictions this week intended to curb youth nicotine addiction.
Lawmakers and public health researchers hope raising the legal age for tobacco and vape sales from 18 to 21 will prevent — or at least delay — first-time tobacco use among teenagers.
Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said raising the age limit “means those who can legally obtain these products are less likely to be in the same social networks as high school students.”
The Tobacco 21 law, which takes effect Thursday, bans the sale of all tobacco and vaping-related products to anyone under 21. That includes e-cigarette devices, batteries and liquids used in vape pens, even when those oils don’t contain nicotine.
The ban does not include nicotine replacement therapy products when used by adolescents who are trying to quit smoking.
While not directly related, Ohio’s T21 law coincides with ongoing efforts to discourage youth from vaping, a growing concern as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies reports of serious lung injuries associated with the practice.
“That 18 to 21 time-frame is crucial,” said Acton, who pointed to research indicating most adult smokers start using tobacco before turning 21. “A lot of kids who vape will go on to smoke. Kids who are vaping are vaping other substances, but if they can get to 21 they have a greater chance of not getting addicted.”
High school students who report vaping at least once within the last 30 days rose by 78% in 2018, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, which found a 48% increase in vaping among middle school students in the same year.
Because of this trend and the rise in hospitalizations linked to vaping, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine called on the state legislature to ban the sale of flavored vape products, including menthol and mint.
Acton agreed that a ban on flavored vape sales should be part of a multi-pronged approach to deter youth from vaping, citing what she described as a “deliberate marketing attempt to addict the next generation” to nicotine.
The CDC has confirmed more than 1,200 cases of lung injury associated with vaping, including 32 in Ohio.
Most patients reporting severe lung injuries have a history of using THC products – particularly illicit THC vapes – but the CDC has also documented cases in which patients claim to have only used nicotine products. The agency has not yet determined the cause or causes, as the investigation is ongoing.
But some researchers worry banning the sale of flavored vapes could have unintended consequences.
“Flavors are a tricky issue when it comes to tobacco use,” said Dr. Amy Fairchild, dean and professor at The Ohio State University’s College of Public Health in Columbus.
Banning the sale of menthol and mint-flavored vapes, Fairchild said, may unintentionally steer adolescent vapers to try cigarettes, as more than half of teenagers who initiate smoking do so with menthol-flavored products.
Fairchild said flavored vapes may also help adult smokers quit smoking cigarettes, which are responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year.
“I want to make sure that when we think about our emotional responses to this problem,” she said, “that we look at the full range of evidence and the bigger range of deaths that are attributable to smoking … doing something that gets the right balance of risks and benefits.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.