ROCKVILLE – In the hope of cutting down the growing trend of vaping among young people across the country, lawmakers have proposed to raise the age to buy products from 18 to 21.
About a week after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed a bill raising the state’s tobacco age from 18 to 21, Congress could be following Maryland, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sponsoring a bill that would make 21 the standard minimum age across the United States to buy tobacco products.
“By making it more difficult for tobacco products to end up in the hands of middle school and high school students, we can protect our children and give them the opportunity to grow and develop into healthy adults,” McConnell said in a statement after he introduced his bill in the Senate. “We’re ready for a national debate about the health of our children, and I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this bill.”
Both in Maryland and in Congress, raising the smoking age has bipartisan support, with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), as a lead co-sponsor on the legislation.
While activists have successfully turned more kids away from cigarettes over the past few decades with education about the health risks of smoking, vaping has caught on — especially among young people. Vaping, which produces aerosol rather than smoke, has become a popular alternative for tobacco consumers. While potentially a healthier alternative to smoking, vaping still involves inhaling dangerous chemicals that contain the addictive drug nicotine.
As in Congress, Maryland’s law raising the smoking age to 21 has bipartisan support. Delegate Dereck Davis (D-25) sponsored the bill, which eventually won over Hogan,who signed the bill last week.
“There is no more important job than protecting the health and safety of Marylander’s,” Hogan said in a statement. “The bipartisan measures we are enacting today – to confront the sharp rise in teen vaping and protect pregnant women and unborn children – are important steps in achieving that goal. We are also proud to continue Maryland’s record of leadership on health care by enacting legislation to further improve access and lower costs.”
While studies have shown a decline in teen smoking; in just one year, there has been a 78 percent increase in the number of high school students who vape, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
Maryland now joins 13 other states that have passed legislation to raise their minimum tobacco sale age to 21. California, New Jersey, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, Illinois, Virginia, Delaware, Arkansas, Vermont, Washington and Utah have all passed similar laws.
However, for some, raising the legal age to buy tobacco products is needless intervention by the state. While Maryland’s law to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products gained bipartisan support, some Republicans dissented, saying the bill was interfering in the independent decisions of adults.
“It’s about at some point in this country you become an adult, and it just so happens that it’s 18,” said Delegate Christopher T. Adams (R-37B), who voted against the law.
To get the bill passed, the legislators added an exemption for members of the military, saying anyone with a Department of Defense ID can still legally purchase tobacco if they are at least 18.
The new minimum age to purchase tobacco products will come into effect Oct. 1, with the new law requiring shops that sell tobacco products to display signs that reflect the change in the law. The new law will apply to all tobacco products, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco and other vaping devices.