Push to raise national smoking age to 21

Local News

Tuesday, the U.S. House passed a 1.4 trillion dollar government-wide spending package.

Part of it is a move to raise the national smoking age from 18 to 21. While some say this is a good idea, others say it should not be the government’s decision to make.

According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 32% of high schoolers and 11% of middle schoolers have tried electronic tobacco products. It’s numbers like these which are behind the push to keep these products as far away from children as possible.

According to Eau Claire City-County Health Department coordinator, Lieske Giese, the use of traditional tobacco has been declining.

“We know that smoking rates, while coming down, are connected to vaping rates going up,” she said.

The new legislation, which has worked its way through Congress, would raise the national smoking age from 18 to 21. This would include traditional cigarettes, e-cigs and vapes.

“At the federal and state level, there has been a lot of conversation and activity on both smoking, the age of smoking and around vaping,” Giese said.

She said while the legislation, titled Tobacco 21, has some strong pieces, it also has some weak points.

“Not paying attention to things like flavored product, tobacco related product, not defining vaping as always being related to tobacco use are two really important gaps in the legislation.”

She said young people may not know the health risks associated with tobacco.

“I think well known is, tobacco is addictive. With addictive substances, it’s very hard to stop once you start and we know the health consequences as well,” Giese said. “Lung cancer is our biggest concern but there are many, many other health concerns connected to tobacco.”

While some, like Tim Devine of Eau Claire, feel the age should be raised

“I don’t have any problem with it personally because you don’t want kids under the age of 18 getting ahold of the cigarettes,” Devine said.

Others, like Karl Wise of Chippewa Falls, are not so sure.

“I think 18 should be the cutoff date for the government to have that kind of control over your life,” Wise said.

Giese said a startling number of kids in Eau Claire County have admitted to using tobacco and vaping products.

“In a most recent survey we did with all of our high school youth in Eau Claire County, 18% of them said that they used vaping products regularly” Giese said. “We do know from the data that about 10% of our youth have been smoking in the last 30 days.”

Even with Tuesday’s passage of the proposal through Congress, Giese hopes it is the right proposal.

“To pass bad legislation or incomplete legislation may not be a good thing for use going forward, even if pieces of it are strong,” she said.

Giese said a delay in use of tobacco is the best practice to avoid smoking related diseases. The spending package now goes to President Trump and he’s expected to sign it.

In September, he called for a ban on flavored vaping products after an outbreak of vaping-related lung injuries, including at least 34 deaths.

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