In December, President Trump signed a bill restricting people under age 21 from buying tobacco products, including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes. Many states and over 500 cities had already implemented laws restricting the sale of tobacco to individuals under the age of 21, including cities in Utah. With the passing of this law, Utah was able to abruptly stop all sales of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes to people under 21.
While some might take exception to executive action in creating policy, a report from the Utah State Department of Health found that Utah’s students have the highest rates of vaping compared to any other age group in the state. Students are more than twice as likely to report vaping than adults in Utah, suggesting high-school and college-age youth are a critical age group for vaping prevention. Thirty-two percent of Utah high school seniors have reported experimenting with vaping products in the past and tobacco use claims the lives of 1,300 Utahns each year.
The risks associated with traditional tobacco product use are well known: cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, COPD, etc. These products harm nearly every organ in the body. With the recent outbreak of e-cigarette (vaping) product-use-associated lung injury (EVALI), the safety of these products have come under fire. With vaping, it is not just tobacco products that can produce harm. THC products with vitamin E acetate are a popular vaping substance and have been strongly linked to EVALI cases. The CDC states that e-cigarettes are unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults. Vaping products that contain nicotine are highly addictive and cause harm to developing teens’ brains. As of January, 2020, 134 cases of EVALI have been reported in Utah with one death.
Raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 years old is the right move for Utah. Of Utah students who have purchased vaping products, 18.6% reported purchasing their products from vape shops and local retailers. Providing teens and young adults with the facts about the risks associated with vaping and tobacco products, and enforcing tobacco 21 laws are steps in the right direction. Flavor restrictions and an increase in tobacco taxes will solidify Utah’s stance on tobacco-free teens and young adults.
Tooele – USU Extension Office