Tobacco and Vapor 21 Law

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Curb tobacco and vapor product use to protect our youth

Are e-cigarettes safer than regular cigarettes?

  • It is too early in the current investigation to know the risk of developing severe lung disease after using different types of e-cigarette or vapor products.
  • Regardless of the investigation, we do know if you don’t use e-cigarettes, you should not start doing so. Youth, young adults, and pregnant women should never use these products.
  • We are still learning about the hazards of vaping. The current outbreak proves it is unsafe. The healthiest option is not to vape or smoke.

What is Tobacco and Vapor 21 in Washington?

  • The law will make it illegal to sell tobacco and vapor products to anyone under 21; it goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
  • Most people who smoke begin before the age of 18, and most kids get access to tobacco and vapor products from social sources who are 18, 19, and 20. By eliminating social sources for initiation, tobacco and vapor 21 will help prevent the next generation from becoming addicted to nicotine.
  • This is a promising strategy to prevent young people from smoking, vaping, and using other tobacco or nicotine products. It complements other policies such as our very comprehensive state law banning smoking in public places, the state vapor product law, and the state’s high tobacco taxes.

Why is Tobacco and Vapor 21 important?

  • More than 8,000 Washingtonians die each year due to tobacco use. We have known for decades that smoking increases the chance of developing lung cancer, dying from pulmonary disease, and having a heart attack or stroke. Washington’s annual healthcare cost of smoking-related illness is $2.8 billion.
  • Among Washington high school seniors:
    • 30% vape.
    • 8% smoke cigarettes.
    • 7% smoke cigars.
    • 4% use smokeless tobacco.
  • A March 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine, one of the most prestigious scientific authorities in the United States, strongly concluded Tobacco and Vapor 21 will likely prevent or delay initiation of tobacco use by adolescents and young adults including a projected:
    • 25% reduction in initiation.
    • 12% reduction in prevalence.
    • 11% reduction in smoking-attributable deaths.
  • Marijuana, no matter how you use it, can affect your memory, learning, mood, motivation, and judgment. Physically, marijuana can affect coordination, movement, and reaction times—making driving while high, or riding with impaired drivers unsafe.
  • Brain development continues until your mid-20s. Using marijuana while the brain is still growing can change brain chemistry and interfere with it.
  • Research shows that 1 in 6 people who start using marijuana as a teen becomes addicted to it. Most teens who get treatment for substance abuse in Washington say marijuana is the main or only drug they use.
  • According to the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey, of the Washington 10th graders who reported vaping, 21% reported they vaped THC—the ingredient in marijuana that gets you high—56% reported they vaped nicotine, and 33% reported they vaped flavors only.
  • Among 10th and 12th graders who reported getting marijuana in the last 30 days, most (roughly 55%) reported they got it from friends. Roughly 4% of 12th graders reported they “stole it from a store.”

How would Tobacco and Vapor 21 impact the epidemic of vaping in middle and high schools?

  • We know most 15- to 17-year-olds get their cigarettes and vapor products from social sources—friends, older siblings, and coworkers who are 18, 19, or 20 years old and can legally purchase. 
  • Making it illegal to sell tobacco and vapor products to anyone under 21 is key to cutting off those social sources, including social sources in schools—their fellow students. This is important because youth model the behavior of tobacco and vape use of the people around them.
  • Many of our kids believe or are led to believe that vaping is a social norm among their peers. The vaping they see in the schools reinforces this perception. 
  • Tobacco and Vapor 21 will help middle and high schools by creating an environment that encourages and facilitates social norms where tobacco and vape use are not attractive, pervasive or socially acceptable. 

What is JUUL? What is vaping? What’s the difference?

  • JUUL is a type of vapor product that has become increasingly popular among kids and teens. It represents at least more than 70% of the vapor product market.
  • Every “pod” (which holds the e-liquid) contains approximately the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.
  • The e-liquids come in flavors such as mango, fruit, cucumber, mint, and crème. 
  • JUUL and other pod-based vapor products also use nicotine salts rather than freebase nicotine, which has a lower Ph level and is a lot smoother to the user. You not only get a stronger hit of nicotine, but it’s easier to inhale.
  • JUUL resembles a flash drive that you can charge in a USB port, including a laptop.
  • JUULing is vaping. However, some young people are referring to using their JUUL as “JUULing” rather than vaping.
  • The Truth Initiative did a study in November 2017 that showed 25% of young people referred to vaping as “JUULing."

Are vapor products safe, or at least safer than smoking combustible cigarettes?

  • We don’t know. We have not had enough time to assess long-term health effects since vapor products came to market, and not enough evidence exists to demonstrate they’re good for quitting. Unlike the 7 medications that the Food and Drug Administration has approved for smoking cessation, the FDA has not approved any vapor products as smoking cessation devices.
  • We do know the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opened an investigation into lung illness among people who use vapor products in the summer of 2019.
  • Vapor products do not emit water vapor – they emit an aerosol with harmful and potentially harmful chemicals, like nicotine.
  • Nicotine is highly addictive, and nicotine addiction isn’t good for anyone. It is especially harmful to young people—whose brains continue to develop until age 25. Young people who use vapor products are more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.

How does nicotine affect young people?

  • Because brain development continues until about age 25, adolescents are more susceptible to both the addictiveness and harmfulness of nicotine.
  • Nicotine changes adolescents’ brain cell activity in the parts of the brain responsible for attention, learning, and memory.
  • It can also worsen:
    • Anxiety.
    • Mood swings.
    • Irritability.
    • Impulsivity.
  • While some of these behaviors can be just adolescent phases, nicotine-induced changes to the brain during adolescence can be permanent.
  • Nicotine’s harm can lead to long-term effects on the ability to make decisions and can also leave teens with an increased risk of addiction to other substances.

What are the health effects of secondhand exposure to aerosol from vapor products?

  • No long-term studies exist yet on vapor products, so it will take decades to understand the long-term health effects of exposure to vapor product aerosol (as it did with regular tobacco products).
  • Aerosol contains harmful and potentially harmful chemicals, including nicotine, as well as particulate matter.

What else do I need to know? Where can I find more information?

  • Young adults 18-20 years of age will not face penalties for purchase, possession, or use.
  • Young people under 18 years of age will continue to face penalties for purchase, possession, or use.

Learn more about the legal implications of Tobacco and Vapor 21 from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board.