Vaping Crisis: US may increase age limit for tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21, hopes to curb vaping among teens

Experts have observed a spike in e-cigarette use among teens with the percentage of teen users jumping to 28% in 2019 from 20% last year.


                            Vaping Crisis: US may increase age limit for tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21, hopes to curb vaping among teens
1 in 4 US high school students have used electronic cigarettes this year, while the number is 10% for middle school students. (Getty Images)

Anyone below 21 may not have access to tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, according to NBC News.

This new measure could be a part of the $1.37 trillion spending bill that will dictate federal funding for 2020. The bill is expected to be signed into law by the end of the week.

Raising the age limit from 18 to 21 is a new measure that has mustered support in the recent past, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen Tim Kaine. Since then, President Trump has also announced support. This age limit provision is already in place in 19 states, the District of Columbia and Guam, according to the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation.

The move is expected to cap teens' access to e-cigarettes. Experts have observed a spike in e-cigarette use among teens: the percentage of teen users has jumped to 28% in 2019, from 20% last year. "Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will help to prevent young people from ever starting to smoke and to reduce the deaths, disease and health care costs caused by tobacco use," says Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy organization working to reduce tobacco use and its deadly consequences in the US and around the world.

"Raising the tobacco age to 21 is a positive step, but it is not a substitute for prohibiting the flavored e-cigarettes that are luring and addicting our kids" says Matthew L Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in a statement. He adds, "The evidence is clear that flavored e-cigarettes are driving the youth epidemic. Most youth e-cigarette users use flavored products and cite flavors as a key reason for their use. As long as flavored e-cigarettes remain available, kids will find ways to get them and this epidemic will continue."

The evidence is clear that flavored e-cigarettes are driving the youth epidemic. Most youth e-cigarette users use flavored products and cite flavors as a key reason for their use. (Getty Images)

E-cigarettes and chronic lung diseases

Amid this move, a new study, which investigated the health effects of e-cigarettes and tobacco products, is strengthening the case against these products. The odds of developing lung disease — different from vaping-related lung injuries outbreak or EVALI — increased by about a third for e-cigarette users.

These people have a higher risk of developing chronic lung diseases like asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to researchers from UC San Francisco.

And those who used e-cigarettes and also smoked tobacco — a common trend among adult e-cigarette users — were at an even higher risk of developing chronic lung disease than those who used either product alone.

The researchers initiated this study to clearly establish that e-cigarettes were causing lung disease and not the other way around: e-cigarette use was more common among people with lung disease.

Accordingly, the team studied 32,000 adults who had no signs of lung disease before the study. After figuring out their history of e-cigarette use and smoking, researchers monitored the health of these participants' for three years. More specifically, they were looking to find out if the participants showed signs of lung diseases.

"We concluded that e-cigarettes are harmful on their own, and the effects are independent of smoking conventional tobacco," says senior author Dr Stanton Glantz, a UCSF professor of medicine and director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

But these effects are more pronounced among tobacco smokers. The risk of developing chronic lung disease in tobacco smokers increased their risk by a factor of 2.6. In contrast, current and former e-cigarette users had 1.3 times higher risk of developing the condition.

the risk is far higher for people who smoked and vaped at the same time, with triple the risk of developing lung disease. (Getty Images)

Further, the risk is far higher for people who smoked and vaped at the same time, with triple the risk of developing lung disease. "Dual users — the most common use pattern among people who use e-cigarettes — get the combined risk of e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes, so they're actually worse off than tobacco smokers," says Glantz.

What is more, this dual-use trend defeats the purpose of the product that was promoted to help people give up smoking. "Switching from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes exclusively could reduce the risk of lung disease, but very few people do it," says Glantz. "For most smokers, they simply add e-cigarettes and become dual users, significantly increasing their risk of developing lung disease above just smoking."

The results of this study do not apply to acute lung diseases like the vaping-related lung injury outbreaks or EVALI, says the team. With over 2,400 cases and 52 deaths, health officials are currently investigating the cause behind EVALI. So far, evidence has emerged against THC and vitamin E acetate: which are on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) radar. 

The study has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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