December 20, 2019: The Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation and its advocacy arm, Tobacco 21, are gratified that Congress has passed and the President has signed the logical and long-overdue federal law to raise the sales age for all nicotine and tobacco products to 21. Retailer ability to market and sell alcohol and recreational marijuana under 21 is already universally restricted in the U.S., and this youth protection has strong scientific and vast popular support. Tobacco products, which prematurely kill over 500,000 Americans and drain hundreds of billions in health costs each year make Tobacco 21 even more vital.
Simply raising the age, however, is insufficient to stem the ongoing epidemic of adolescent nicotine addiction wrought by the deliberate abuses of the vaping industry. The Food and Drug Administration has been charged with enforcing the tobacco sales age under age 18 for the last ten years. Their negligence in requiring retailer compliance is one of the reasons that 5.4 million American middle school and high school students are inhaling high-potency nicotine regularly. The FDA must dramatically revamp its enforcement protocol if raising the age is to have any substantial effect.
There remain thirty-one states that have not yet enacted Tobacco 21 at the state level, and nearly half of the nineteen enacted states have weak and largely unenforceable laws, leaving kids in the crosshairs of targeted marketing and sales by unscrupulous purveyors. Along with the FDA, states must utilize this mandate to also improve retailer compliance in a “belt (FDA) and suspenders (states)” approach to enforcement.
Just as importantly, the FDA must act swiftly to ban all flavor ingredients in addictive nicotine products, including menthol, and stop all internet sales. The nicotine content of ecigarette/ vaping devices must be markedly lowered, and the practice of chemically altering nicotine to create nicotine salts that are more palatable to kids must be outlawed. Tens of millions of American parents, health care workers and teachers are outraged at our government’s disgraceful inaction in the face of this crisis. Raising the sales age is one step. Many more must be taken to contain this epidemic and keep us from losing a generation to nicotine addiction.