Federal lawmakers should follow the lead of Washington and at least 17 other states in raising the age of legal sale for vapor and tobacco products to 21.
Doing so would make it more difficult for high school students to access these potentially harmful products, while helping keep them out of the hands of even younger teens.
Although it is often pitched as a safer alternative to cigarettes for existing adult smokers, vaping has been devastatingly popular with young people. In a recent survey, one third of the state of Washington’s high school seniors reported using e-cigarettes in 2018. According to national data, 5 million children use e-cigarettes, compared with 8 million adults.
Trump administration officials are said to be considering increasing the legal age of purchase and banning flavored e-cigarette products. Vape juices flavored to taste like candy, fruit or sweet deserts are popular with young users, who also say they appreciate small, discreet vape pens over traditional tobacco cigarettes.
But nicotine can harm developing brains regardless of how it is ingested — through smoke, water vapor or chew. And as this summer’s rash of vaping-related lung injuries so clearly demonstrates, additives may present other unknown dangers. Earlier this month, 2,051 cases of vaping-related lung injuries had been reported in 49 states — every state except Alaska. Thirty-nine deaths had been confirmed. At least 14 cases of vaping associated lung injury have been reported in Washington since April.
The apparent link between the injuries and the additive vitamin E acetate has the CDC urging people to avoid e-cigarette products containing THC, particularly from informal sources or online merchants. The Washington State Department of Health has asked the state’s vapor product processors to stop using vitamin E acetate or distributing products containing the additive as health officials review the evidence.
Last month, the Washington State Board of Health passed an emergency ban on flavored vapor products. Washington’s age restriction takes effect on Jan. 1.
For years, e-cigarettes have largely been given a pass by regulators, based on the lack of evidence of actual harm. Those days are definitively over. A federal ban on underage sales, and tighter restrictions on flavorings and additives are needed to safeguard public health.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE SEATTLE TIMES