Ohio Governor Mike DeWine proposed raising the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 on Wednesday as part of new regulations on electronic cigarettes. DeWine called the increase in teenagers using nicotine products a "public health emergency".
“The buck stops with us in Ohio," the governor said during a press conference Wednesday. "We can control certain things in Ohio. What we’re seeing today with (e-cigarettes) is exactly what tobacco companies did for so many, many years unabated. They were targeting new smokers.”
State health officials cited an annual survey of teen behavior showing a sharp increase in vaping among teenagers, with about 20 percent responding they'd vaped in the last month, making it more common than smoking regular cigarettes.
“We are facing an explosion of vaping that is dramatically expanding adolescent nicotine use," said Dr. Amy Acton, the head of the Ohio Department of Health.
The proposal immediately faced resistance from vaping advocates who see e-cigarettes as a way for smokers to gradually stop using nicotine.
“The main point for us is to get people off of combustible tobacco which we know contributes to several hundred thousand deaths a year," said James Jarvis, who owns five vape stores in Central Ohio and heads the Ohio Vapor Trade Association.
DeWine has included raising the smoking age in his budget proposal. That move has been backed by the Ohio Children's Hospital Association and the Ohio chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The groups say it's a step in the right direction towards keeping tobacco and vaping products away from youth. "The recent epidemic of vaping and e-cigarette usage has only increased risks for teen and adult addiction to tobacco products," they said in a statement. "Accessibility of tobacco for teens presents an issue that must be addressed head-on..."
A growing number of states have considered the new regulations, with some already passing laws increasing the age to 21. More than 30 cities, including Columbus, have already raised the age to buy to 21.
“There are probably six different signs on our front door that says, ‘nobody under the age of 21’, ‘must have ID to enter’," Jarvis said. "We don’t want this product getting into the hands of the people who aren’t supposed to be using it.”
A spokesperson for Juul, one of the most popular brands of vaping products, issued the following statement in support of DeWine's proposal:
"We strongly support raising the purchasing age for all tobacco products, including vapor products, to 21 and have been actively supporting legislation to do this in states across the country and at the federal level. We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in this country, if youth-use continues unabated. Tobacco 21 laws fight one of the largest contributors to this problem – sharing by legal-age peers – and they have been shown to dramatically reduce youth-use rates. That is why we will continue to work with lawmakers across the country to enact these effective policies."