Column: Virginia’s New 21+ Tobacco Law is Not the Answer

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By Brian Angus | bangus@radford.edu

Feb. 21, Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill HB2748 making it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to buy tobacco in Virginia.

ACS CAN’s website says, “Although ACS CAN applauds our state legislators for their desire to prevent kids from using tobacco, we did not support this legislation. ACS CAN’s work on this issue in multiple states has shown that the focus needs to be on the sale, not the purchase, of tobacco and e-cigarette products. Penalizing and fining youth who make these purchases has not been proven to effectively reduce tobacco use.”Our state joins Hawaii, California, New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, and as of just last week, Utah, in raising the tobacco age to 21. The law will become effective on July 1 of this year.

The bill seems to be aimed at preventing the youth from vaping. Delegate Christopher Stolle, M.D. (R-Virginia Beach), who voted for the bill in the house, said, “The rapid growth of the number of teenagers vaping, at a time when the use of traditional tobacco is at an all-time low, should set off alarms for every parent. This legislation will help to reverse that trend.”

However, I have been wondering, if the goal behind the legislation is to prevent teenagers from smoking, then how will raising the age limit stop them? If they are under the age of 18, they are already obtaining the tobacco illegally.

Also, in the House bill, there is no indication of a grandfather clause. Meaning even if you are 18, it will now be illegal for you to purchase tobacco come July.

This is bound to backfire on the state.

Now there will be all these teenagers addicted to tobacco without a way to fulfill their cravings. This will cause even more people to obtain tobacco illegally, in turn, causing more people to run into trouble with the law.

Shockingly, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) didn’t even support the bill.

ACS CAN’s website says, “Although ACS CAN applauds our state legislators for their desire to prevent kids from using tobacco, we did not support this legislation. ACS CAN’s work on this issue in multiple states has shown that the focus needs to be on the sale, not the purchase, of tobacco and e-cigarette products. Penalizing and fining youth who make these purchases has not been proven to effectively reduce tobacco use.”

It’s silly to expect that results in Virginia will be different. Penalizing the youth could also cause fear about receiving help for addiction, since they may be fined for revealing they have tobacco.

When a big tobacco company is advocating for a bill to restrict tobacco usage, but a health organization like the American Cancer Society is not, something’s off. Even more shocking, the corporation, Altria, who is one of the world’s largest producers of tobacco, and has a large stake in JUUL, said, “We believe that raising the minimum age to 21 to purchase tobacco products is the most effective action to further reduce underage tobacco use and reverse rising underage e-vapor usage rates.”

When a big tobacco company is advocating for a bill to restrict tobacco usage, but a health organization like the American Cancer Society is not, something’s off. The new law seems like a half-hearted attempt at doing the right thing, with the hope that it will make the state and tobacco companies look good.

While the bill does help promote awareness around teen tobacco use, the results might not be the one’s legislators and parents are hoping for.

Photo Credit: (Patrick Brinksma | Unsplash)