On Wednesday, May 4th, 2016, California governor Jerry Brown signed a plethora of bills that moved the legal age for tobacco from 18 to 21 years old and classified vapor products as tobacco. These laws went into effect on Thursday, June 9th. There are two sides to any issue, however, and both have very strong opinions about these new bills.
Many people lament the dangers of youth addiction to tobacco, which can lead to diseases like cancer and heart disease. According to a study by the Center for Disease Control, about 23% of high schoolers use a tobacco product of some sort. Many of these students go on to struggle with addiction and disease. These concerns are what have created the impetus for a bill that raises the legal tobacco age.
“No one expects to get cancer when they start using tobacco, especially not an 18 year old teen whose just been given more freedom. Cancer is such a terrible disease… It’s simply unreasonable to give an 18 year old a choice that could lead to cancer and other health problems down the road,” BHS junior Kailey Nichols said.
There are others who support these new bills because they also raise the legal of e-cigarettes use to twenty one.
E-cigarettes have been a space of hot debate ever since their rise to popularity. Some argue that E-cigarettes should be considered tobacco and others argue that these E- cigarettes are a healthier alternative to tobacco.
It is known that E- cigarettes do not contain tobacco. However, they do contain nicotine, which is found within tobacco. It is the chemical in tobacco that provides a temporary, pleasurable (and addicting) effect. E- cigarettes are made by taking this nicotine and mixing it with other additives and flavors. The science behind E- cigarettes’ effects on the body are inconclusive, to say the least. Currently, there is no scientific research that shows a correlation between nicotine and diseases like cancer. However, various chemical compounds that do cause disease, like “formaldehyde” and “diacetyl” have been found in E- Cigarettes. It is generally accepted that E- cigarettes are safer than cigarettes: to what degree, however, is what is under question.
“To me, it’s another brilliant ploy from big tobacco that’s going to get students addicted. And right now, there’s not a ton of research either way, and they just have no idea how it’s [vape drugs] are going to impact you at all,” BHS health teacher Mrs. Carter said.
Whatever the case may be, California legislators have decided that E- cigarettes are are in the same category as tobacco.
This new law has its critics. Some people believe that while raising the smoking age is theoretically a good practice, it may not solve the issue of teenage tobacco use.
For example, an opinion article by Mike Males of the Los Angeles Times explored why he believed this new law is impractical. He mentions that there is no scientific evidence to prove that raising the tobacco age would actually discourage teens from using tobacco. He also mentions a very interesting point- that tobacco usage by teens has actually been dropping in the United States, and California especially. This implores us to ask the question: how much influence would this law really make?
There are people at BHS with similar questions.
“Raising the tobacco age is something that sounds very beneficial on paper… But in practice, I think there is a possibility that raising the tobacco age might actually increase teen use. I know, and I believe many others know, that many teens have a knack for rebellion. Making tobacco illegal might give it an extra thrill that could make it more appealing. Why not preserve the status quo?” senior David Craig said.
Others believe that even with this law, teenagers will still be able to get tobacco illicitly.
“It certainly will make it harder for teens to purchase such products at a convenience store, however, they can just have their guardian or legal friend to buy the tobacco for them and still use it afterward. You can see this issue now… even though marijuana and other drugs are illegal, students still find ways to get them,” senior Brandon Chen said.
Some also critique the re-classification of vaping products as tobacco. They believe that there are always going to be people who want to smoke. For those people, vaping may perhaps offer a healthier alternative.
This coming year, as this bill is implemented, it will be very important to observe how teenage smoking rates change, if at all. This will allow us to see whether or not these new bills are effective and whether revisions will be necessary for the future.