State Senate wants to raise smoking age in Ohio to 21, add 17% tax on vaping devices

State Senate leaders on Tuesday unveiled a plan to add a 17 percent tax on vaping products, also know as e-cigarettes, to the state budget.

Senate leaders are also supporting the House’s plan to raise Ohio’s legal smoking age to 21, something supported by Gov. Mike DeWine.

The state budget must be finalized by June 30.

Earlier report: Gov. Mike DeWine and his top administrators on Wednesday took aim at the scourge of youth smoking and vaping, calling for Ohio to increase the purchase age for tobacco and vape products to 21.

“The e-cigarette industry is targeting the next generation with highly addictive fruit- and candy-flavored nicotine products,” said Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton at a press conference held at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

DeWine said he and his staff will use the bully pulpit across Ohio to push to raise the tobacco purchase age and increase awareness about the dangers of vaping and smoking, particularly among youths.

“This is a public health crisis,” DeWine said.

Related: Governor wants to raise tobacco, vape purchase age to 21 across Ohio

In his proposed two-year operating budget, DeWine included a provision to raise the tobacco purchase age, including vape materials, to 21. The current purchase age is 18, although more than 30 Ohio cities have passed local ordinances setting the age at 21.

Studies show 95 percent of adult smokers took up the habit before they turned 21. Nearly 21 percent of high school age youths use e-cigarettes, making them more at risk for using regular cigarettes later, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Maddy Mayer, a high school junior in suburban Columbus and an anti-vaping activist, said “a whole generation of kids” are vaping and hiding it from their parents. “When you keep something a secret, chances are you probably shouldn’t be doing it,” she said.

Acton, who is married to a middle school teacher, said at her husband’s school, students refer to the bathroom as the vape room.

DeWine, Acton and Lori Criss, director of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, warned parents and youths that vaping is not a safer alternative to smoking for teens.

E-cigarettes contain cancer-causing chemicals as well as highly addictive nicotine, which can harm brain development in teens and young adults. Vaping products come in flavors that appeal to children, including Fruit Loops, mint, mango and others.

DeWine said pitching e-cigarettes to children is “exactly what the tobacco companies did for so many years, unabated” with cigarettes.

Related: A decade after smoking ban, more than 20 percent of Ohioans still smoke

The governor said his team is assessing how the tobacco purchase age law is currently being enforced and what more needs to be done.

JUUL, the maker of one of the most popular vaping systems on the market, said it supports DeWine’s plan to increase the purchase age to 21.

“Tobacco 21 laws have been shown to dramatically reduce youth smoking rates, which is why we strongly support raising the minimum purchase age for all tobacco products, including vapor products like JUUL, to 21 in Ohio,” the company said.

The governor said his team is assessing how the tobacco purchase age law is currently being enforced and what more needs to be done.

When asked whether he supports pending legislation that would ban smoking in a car with a child, DeWine said he had yet to see the bill. "I'd have to think about that."

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