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Ohio raising smoking age: How will it impact younger generation?

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Ohio Raising Smoking Age to 21

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Ohio purchase age increased for tobacco products and e-cigarettes.

A local superintendent said he believes a generation of young people may be lost to addiction to e-cigarette devices despite recent efforts to curb the appeal.

Ohio lawmakers last week increased the legal age to purchase tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21, following 18 other states and the District of Columbia.

“It’s a real problem for us right now, and we’re trying to deal with it the best we can. It’s a problem for schools. It’s a problem for parents,” Lebanon schools superintendent Todd Yohey “Certainly the legal change is a step in the right direction. I think we’re all just going to have to wait to see the impact it has.”

Yohey doubts changing the smoking age will have much impact on a generation already using cigarettes and e-liquids illegally while younger than 18.

“It’s probably going to be multi-generational. … If you look at how long it took for the number of smokers to decline after smoking was at its peak in the country, that was multiple generations, and we still have a lot of people addicted to nicotine,” he said. “When you look at vaping right now, I don’t know if we’re at its peak.”

More than 3.6 million American middle and high school students said they used e-cigarettes in 2018, up 1.5 million from the previous year, according to survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One in five high school students and one in 20 middle school students said they used e-cigarettes within the last 30 days during the 2018 survey — an increase Yohey said he’s seen first-hand, sparking a policy change last year that increased the consequences for smoking and vaping at school and enhanced enforcement.

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Scott Pendley, co-owner of Dayton-based e-cigarette chain Vapor Haus, said he also questions whether the buying-age change will curb teen use since others will still be able to buy the products for younger smokers and vapers. It’s not illegal in Ohio for anyone under the age of 21 to smoke.

Most of his customers and shoppers at other local vape shops are older than 25, he said, so the change won’t impact business much. Tobacco shop Smoking Outpost in Huber Heights also won’t see much of an impact because of the typical customer’s age, manager Sherry Sharma said.

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Instead most youth and young adults are buying their products online, or they’re getting them from older friends and parents, something staff at both Vapor Haus and Smoking Outpost watch for when they think someone may be buying for a minor, Sharma and Pendley said.

Online age enforcement is difficult, and younger users can still drive to Indiana or Kentucky, where the legal age to buy tobacco and e-cigarettes remains 18. West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania are also not among the 18 states that have increased the age.

Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed a line in the bill passed last week that would have allowed anyone who turned 18 by Oct. 1 to continue purchasing the tobacco and e-cigarette products.

“Most adult smokers begin smoking as teens, and most daily smokers begin doing so between the ages of 18 and 21,” Dewine said in his veto message. “Exempting current 18- to 20 year-old individuals from the minimum age increase to purchase tobacco products could result in more of these individuals using tobacco products daily, reducing their life expectancy and increasing Ohio’s long-term healthcare costs.”

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It would also be a “substantial administrative burden” for businesses that sell cigarettes and vaping products, DeWine said.

Yet Pendley said the age increase is a step in the right direction because the goal of vapor is to help quit traditional cigarettes, and only a handful of people have ever gone to his stores to buy e-cigarettes or e-liquids unless they were already smoking tobacco products.

Sharma also said she’s for the change if it can prevent teens, like her son, from starting to smoke.

“It’s the right thing to do. I have a child of my own and I would prefer him not to smoke. He’s 25 years old and he’s able to make his own decisions now, but I would have preferred him not to start. He started with believe it or not my mother buying (cigarettes) for him (at 15),” she said. “At 26 years old, he’s not going to stop.”

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By the numbers

95: Percent of adult smokers that started before turning 21.

21: Percent of high school age youths use e-cigarettes.

20,180: Deaths attributed to smoking in 2016.

5,400: Ohio children will become new daily smokers this year.

58.5: Percent of Ohio voters who said yes to ban indoor smoking.