Vaping has been steadily gaining popularity these past few years. Proof of this is the increase in the number of vaping products sold not just in physical stores but in online shops as well. Vaping is a great alternative for adult smokers who use it as a means of quitting smoking.

This growth in vapers is not just because of adult users though. Teenagers also comprise a chunk of the vaping populace. Some try vaping out of curiosity. Others vape as a means of fitting in with their peers. Some got into vaping just because it seems like the “in” thing to do.

Whatever the reason is, the rise in teenage vapers prompted legislators and regulators to come up with ways of limiting the use of vaping devices. The aim is to limit vaping to those deemed responsible enough to make their own decisions about what they should and shouldn’t put into their bodies.

What is the legal age to buy vapes in the U.S.?

The Food and Drug Administration is the agency with regulating powers when it comes to vaping products and devices. This is a result of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act). It is a bill signed into law on June 22, 2009, by then President Obama. The act gave the FDA regulatory powers not just over tobacco products like traditional cigarettes but on smokeless tobacco products like vaping devices.

Restricting the age of those who can purchase vaping products is one of the functions of the FDA. The legal adult age for purchasing vaping products is 18. This may be the rule according to the FDA, but the truth is that each state has its own age restrictions when it comes to vaping products. There are even some states whose minimum age is higher than 18.

The exact age when a person can legally purchase vaping products and devices differs from state to state.

In the states listed below, a person needs to be at least 21 years of age before they can purchase a vape product. This took effect in 2016. This age is for purchasing any tobacco product. In California, “any tobacco product” covers both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington

The legal age is also 21 for those residing in the District of Columbia and the U.S. Territory of Guam. In the states of Alabama and Alaska, you need to be 19 if you want to purchase and use a vaping product. In all the other US states and territories, the legal age is 18. There is an effort though, to increase the minimum age to 21.

What is Tobacco 21?

Tobacco 21 is an organization. Its aim is to raise the legal minimum age to purchase tobacco and nicotine products to 21. The ultimate goal of the organization is to completely eliminate the sale of tobacco and nicotine products.

Tobacco 21’s founder is Rob Crane. He is an Ohio State University medical professor. He is also a tobacco control activist.

They see the increase in minimum sale age to 21 as an important step in reducing smoking among the youth population. When coupled with higher tobacco taxes and strong smoke-free laws, Tobacco 21 believes that raising the minimum age to 21 will help prevent more young people from taking up smoking. They believe that if they can help prevent kids or young adults from starting to smoke, they can also reduce diseases and deaths caused by tobacco use.

Why shouldn’t teenagers vape?

According to statistics, e-cigarettes are the most frequently used tobacco product. Around 2.1 million middle and high school students were e-cigarette users as of 2017. More teenagers use e-cigarettes compared to traditional cigarettes.

One of the most popular vape devices is JUUL. It is a vaping device known for its fun flavors. It looks like a USB flash drive which makes it easy to bring to school without anyone noticing. JUUL is an exceedingly addictive product because of its high levels of nicotine. This high level of nicotine also makes teens more likely to make vaping a habit. Teens are more susceptible to addiction because their brains are still developing at their age. This also means that teenagers are more prone to drugs and alcohol abuse.

In order to prevent teenagers from getting into smoking and vaping, the FDA announced that it will intensify its crackdown on illegal sales of e-cigarettes to minors. The FDA will also crack down on “kid-friendly marketing and appeal of the said products”. They believe that the use of electronic cigarettes among youth has reached epidemic proportions.

What are the risks of vaping for teenagers?

Inability to focus

Researchers believe that teenagers who get addicted to vaping have reduced abilities to focus. Although vaping initially increases a teenager’s alertness and attention, it results in a decrease in their attention span. Sarper Taskiran, MD, is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute. She observed this decrease in attention span. In one instance, a student was able to sit through practice ACT exams. This changed after 6 months of JUUL use. The student can no longer sit still. She starts craving. The student can’t think of the questions and just starts fidgeting.

Carcinogens

Studies showed that e-cigarettes and similar devices contain carcinogenic compounds. During a recent study, researchers found a significant increase in the levels of carcinogens in the urine of teens who vape. A carcinogen is any substance that promotes carcinogenesis. This is the process that forms cancers. A carcinogen can cause cancer by altering cellular metabolism or damaging DNA directly in the cells.

Effects of nicotine on adolescents

Aside from addiction, nicotine has other harmful effects. Nicotine can harm a teenager’s brain. The human brain keeps developing until a person reaches the age of 25 or even longer. This means that the harmful chemicals contained in cigarettes and electronic cigarettes can prevent a teenager’s brain from fully developing. Nicotine can also harm the parts of the brain that control mood, impulse, and learning.

Nicotine can also affect the brain’s synapses. Whenever a person learns a new skill or creates a new memory, synapses gets built between brain cells. Synapses are responsible for connecting these memories or skills to the brain cells. This means that nicotine can reduce a person’s ability to retain new skills or remember new memories.

How can a parent prevent a child from smoking or vaping?

There are steps that the government is taking to prevent teenagers from getting into smoking or vaping. An example is raising the prices of cigarettes and vaping products. Most teenagers easily get turned off by higher prices. This can help dissuade potential smokers from even starting the habit. There are also educational campaigns that can help students understand the negative effects of smoking and vaping.

On top of these government-initiated efforts, there are also steps that parents can take to help prevent their kids from smoking or vaping.

Open communication

Making sure that a child is aware of the dangers of smoking and vaping is a good way of dissuading them. It is not only teenagers who need to learn about these effects. Parents can even discuss with their young kids the effects of smoking or vaping to their health. A parent can start talking about these health hazards to his or her child as young as a preschooler. The use of terms that a child can easily understand will make it easier for a parent to let the child appreciate the dangers of smoking and vaping. These talks should continue and become more complex as the child gets older.

It is also important to discuss to a child what they should do or say if a classmate or a friend offers him or her a cigarette or an e-cigarette. This can prepare the child in dealing with peer pressure.

Set a good example

If the parents use cigarettes or vaping devices, the best way of preventing a child from starting smoking or vaping is to quit. This can help show to the children that smoking is not ideal for one’s health. If a parent finds it hard to quit, the next best thing is to avoid smoking or vaping in front of the children.

A smoke-free home can also help prevent a child from getting into smoking. Smoking should be limited to outside the house. Discourage relatives and visitors from smoking inside the house as well.

Smoking and vaping are habits that can be quite difficult to break. It is for this reason why there are efforts by both the government and the private sector to curb teenage smoking and vaping. This also explains why there is a minimum age requirement for those who want to purchase and use smoking and vaping products. These requirements are not in place just to make a teenager’s life miserable. They are in place to make sure that the person who wants to buy or use e-cigarettes is already mature enough to understand the effects and consequences of smoking and vaping.

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