Should Texas Raise Our Vaping Age to 21?

Vaping Age to 21

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Vaping is part of the solution, not part of the problem.  It is a good adult decision, preventative in nature, and should be encouraged in place of smoking for those seeking alternatives.  An 18 year old adult should not be criminally liable for vaping, period.  Texas should not raise vaping to 21.

Why treat vaping like smoking?

Why allow discrimination against one nicotine alternative rather than all nicotine alternatives?

Why create law enforcement challenges by criminalizing vaping?

Answering these three questions we can begin to reach an agreement, vaping is not smoking and should be left at the current age restrictions.  This can be done with a very simple amendment to current proposed legislation.

Texas legislators are busy debating the pros and cons of raising the age to smoke from 18 to 21.  It is a question that’s being debated in many places, Texas legislators have for over a decade.  This year’s efforts to raise the age include strong support by the powerful special interest group Tobacco 21, known as T-21.

T-21, and their affiliated campaigns, strive for tobacco-free, smoke-free living and currently are riding a wave of legislative success.  Ironically the vast majority of current vaping community members (people who choose to vape instead of smoke) share their tobacco-free goal but T-21 does not recognize the shared vision.  T-21 also refuses to acknowledge the positive impact vaping is having on the historic drop in smoking across all age groups since e-cigarettes arrived in 2007.  Their focus is against all alternative nicotine delivery systems in addition to smoking, in their view both are equally as bad.

According to their website, organizers do not have any tolerance for any alternative delivery systems, especially e-cigarettes.  “Certainly e-cigarettes should be subject to the same sales and marketing restrictions as traditional cigarettes…,” according to T-21.  Regarding e-cigarettes T-21 concludes;

“Including e-cigarettes and other nicotine products in legislation to increase age access to 21 would seem to be an important deterrent to the threat of e-cigarettes as a gateway…the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation only support an increase to age 21 for tobacco products if it also includes e-cigarettes and other nicotine products without exemption or preemption of increased local control.” (Tobacco 21 – E-cigarettes & Teens) [Emphasis Added]

Texas legislators have two major age increase bills this session, SB-183 and HB-1908, neither include other nicotine products while both include e-cigarettes.  Senator Carlos Uresti (D) has lobbied for an increase in the smoking age for 10 years and was first to file this session’s senate version Nov. 14, 2016.  Representative John Zerwas (R) filed the house version on February 15, 2017.

HB 1908 has a total of 11 republican and 4 democrat co-sponsors and is scheduled for a public hearing before the House Public Health Committee Tuesday, March 28th at 8am.  Commercials by anti-smoking groups have been airing in the state with a complete focus on smoking and the age issue.  Vaping is not typically included in their current ads, most don’t realize vaping will be the only alternative nicotine product criminalized for those under 21 if passed.

T-21 is supporting both versions despite the fact neither Texas bill includes any other alternative nicotine products, only e-cigarettes.  This change from their stated position is likely due to the fact including gums, lozenges, patches, and sprays would bring strong opposition from the powerful pharmaceutical lobby.  T-21 sees Texas as the 2017 big success for the organization, adding to its growing list of states, counties, and cities passing age restriction increases.

Despite all the claims by T-21; despite Texas misclassifying vaping as tobacco in 2015 and the FDA misclassifying it in 2016, scientific studies and testimonies from actual users prove vaping is part of the solution for those trying to quit smoking and live smoke-free, in line with public health and T-21 goals.

Vaping is not a part of the problem and definitely not a gateway to smoking.  To continue these claims is to ignore unsurmountable data supporting vaping’s success.  Can we agree all good alternatives should be available for 18 year olds who are trying to quit smoking?

Public health experts are realizing vaping, being over 95% safer than smoking with no harm to by-standers, is the best alternative to come to market yet.  Using modern e-cigarettes works for millions of people due to a wide-variety of reasons.  It is not the only alternative that works but for millions it is the best alternative.

The United Kingdom is encouraging people who are still smoking to switch to vaping for their health.  It is a central part in their campaign to be tobacco free and vaping is helping across all age groups.  Solving the smoking crisis takes many alternatives and vaping is impacting a decline in smoking unlike any product, adding a very important tool in the anti-smoking efforts.  Their choice to embrace vaping is based on scientific fact, not lobbying and special interest efforts denying the facts.  Should 18 year old adults be denied access to vaping?

Texas legislators, and citizens supporting age increases for smoking must consider three questions, as a minimum, before including vaping products rather than leaving them at their current age restriction of 18.  Without studying and discussing all the data sound law cannot be created.  We all can agree our main goal for any regulations or laws is that they are based on sound principles and data, can’t we?  If so, here are three discussion questions for us.

Why treat vaping like smoking?

Why will we pass a law excluding only one health decision for 18 year olds to make; alternative nicotine delivery through vaping rather than smoking cigarettes?  Why are all other nicotine alternatives excluded from these bills?

Quitting smoking helps prevent future health issues currently costing billions a year in treatment and quality of life expenses.  Health decisions, in Texas, are part of an 18 year old’s adult rights as defined under current law.  In 1993 Texas passed the Consent to Medical Treatment Act, still in force today with sound precedence.

There is no argument cigarette smoking is a bad health decision and choosing not to smoke, through either alternative nicotine delivery or abstinence, is a good health decision.

Three legal definitions of consent will be changed if vaping is raised to 21.  Neither the senate or house versions of the 2017 proposed bills actually make the changes, however.  These bills only propose changes to Subchapter H of the Texas Health and Safety Code.  Without changing definitions in the Consent to Medical Treatment Act confusion will be embedded into our laws, never a good thing when it comes to laws we’re expected to abide by every day or face criminal charges and fines.

Definitions altered, but not legally changed, if e-cigarettes are not left at 18, are found in Section 313.002 which sets the definitions for what legal adult medical consent is in Texas.  The three specific definitions impacted are:

(1)  “Adult” means a person 18 years of age or older or a person under 18 years of age who has had the disabilities of minority removed. (E-cigarette use will require an ‘adult’ to be defined as 21 in order to consent to vaping.)

(3)  “Decision-making capacity” means the ability to understand and appreciate the nature and consequences of a decision regarding medical treatment and the ability to reach an informed decision in the matter. (In all things medical an 18 year old has the capacity except in understanding and appreciating the debilitating nature of smoking rather than living tobacco-free and the options to help sustain smoke-free living.)

(6)  “Medical treatment” means a health care treatment, service, or procedure designed to maintain or treat a patient’s physical or mental condition, as well as preventative care.  (There are many treatments for helping to quit smoking or chewing tobacco.  Nicotine replacement therapies, through alternative nicotine delivery systems, is inclusive of treatment, maintenance, and prevention qualifying as potential medical treatments.  Vaping will need to be written in as the one exception if the proposed bills pass into law.)

Why allow discrimination against one alternative rather than all alternatives?

If nicotine is as bad as smoking why not include all alternative delivery methods, as T-21 claims is necessary to garner their support?

Both versions of the legislation discriminate against e-cigarettes, ignoring all other delivery systems easily available on the market today.  If nicotine is the problem this act must also make 21 the age required for purchasing gums, sprays, lozenges, and patches at a minimum.  None of these are included in the bills as written.  If an 18 year old is vaping a zero nicotine liquid even natural vegetables contain more nicotine but it would be ludicrous to age restrict all nicotine containing vegetables, wouldn’t it?

Why create law enforcement challenges by criminalizing vaping?

Why would we want to create another challenge in the daily efforts of law enforcement officials?

If passed and signed into law September 1st, 2017 it will be a Class C Misdemeanor offense to smoke or vape if you are under 21. Expectations are this law will be enforced, why else would we pass any law?  By including vaping in the age increase enforcement officials are placed in a very challenging position.

It’s easy to determine if someone is smoking a cigarette.  It’s much more complicated to know if someone is vaping nicotine.  The way the bills are written even liquids with no nicotine would have to be included for ease of enforcement, essentially banning vaping until the age of 21.

Keep in mind, all other medical and health decisions will still be within an 18 year olds legal rights and abilities under law except the choice of vaping rather than smoking.  It will still be legal to choose an alternative nicotine delivery product, such as a patch or gum, to get nicotine.  Does that make sense?

Do we really want to criminalize an adult for choosing vaping with ZERO nicotine, especially if that young adult used to be a smoker and chose vaping to help remain smoke-free?

Vaping is part of the solution, not part of the problem.  It is a good adult decision, preventative in nature, and should be encouraged in place of smoking to promote better public health. An 18 year old adult should not be criminalized for vaping, period.  Texas should not raise vaping to 21.



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