Certain states have begun to propose and implement stricter penalties for underage vaping. Unlike most states where these penalties mainly affect the retailer responsible for selling to minors, these states are fining the underage party as well.
The states of Georgia and Tennessee are two of the more recent places to propose such laws.
By going a different route from the prohibitionist tactics used throughout a number of other states, this may allow for an interesting comparison in effective strategies for combating underage vaping.
Campus Vape Ban in Tennessee
Republican lawmakers in Tennessee recently filed a bill that would criminalize vaping on campus.
Anyone under the age of 21 years of age would be subject to the law, and could face penalties for being in breach of it.
In Tennessee, the legal age for the purchase, possession, and use of cigarettes and vape products was 18 years old until the beginning of 2021. This has meant that there is potentially some confusion in which the underage population and retailers may be taking advantage of.
This means that this is the right time for the state to implement more strict laws that actually penalize both parties more, preventing either of them from attempting to capitalize.
Traditionally, confiscating a vape or e-cigarette from a minor in breach of the law has been the way. However, multiple sheriffs have come forward showing that this method is not preventing minors from vaping.
House Bill 1435 would change this.
This bill, sponsored by Rep. Gary Hicks and Sen. Shane Reeves would make the possession or usage of vapes and e-cigarettes on campus a Class C misdemeanor for anyone under the age of 21.
This means that violators will be subject to up to 30 days in jail and/or fines up to $50 for their first offense. These fines skyrocket from for repeat offenders, with offenders being subject to fines of up to $2500 for their third offense.
Misdemeanor in Georgia
In neighboring Georgia, things are becoming strict as well. However, this is not for only underage vapers.
Senate Bill 47 is a proposed measure that will extend the current Smoke-Free Air Act of 2005 to include vaping products.
“A person smoking in violation of the law will be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not less than $100 and not more than $500,” states the Smoke-Free Air Act.
This would make campus areas no-vape zones in their entirety, like they are with cigarettes.
Another fundamental difference is that Tennessee is implementing these laws to directly combat underage vaping, whereas Georgia is indiscriminately punishing vaping, even if it affects adults who happen to work or study on campus still.
“They’ve got aerosol in them that has ultra fine particles and low levels of toxins that have been known to cause cancer,” said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler. “They can certainly exacerbate respiratory conditions like asthma and constrict arteries and have some health risks, and so people shouldn’t be expected to have to breathe these in a public space.”
Again, the backing behind the change in law is based on misinformation, but it could help prevent underage vaping in the college setting.
Fines may not be the only thing students risk under these new laws either.
In certain places like Walker County, sheriffs are taking this a step further. Those caught vaping under 21 are at risk of having their driving license suspended if they do not pay the fine they are given for breaking the law.
While it may seem unfair, this could be the type of penalty that would make minors think twice about vaping.
What Are Other States Doing?
Flavor bans are often the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the underage vaping problem. These blanket bans are massively flawed for a number of reasons, down to the very logic they are rooted in.
In order to protect a smaller group of people (a small amount of the underage population), lawmakers are willing to subject a much greater group to harm (adults looking to quit smoking).
And this is the very argument used by the FDA for issuing marketing denial orders from their premarket tobacco application (PMTA) process.
In the case of most vape products that are denied, there is an official FDA statement discussing why it was. In almost all of these, there is a statement that goes something like this:
“Consistent with the authorities granted by Congress, the FDA remains committed to evaluating new tobacco product applications based on a public health standard that considers the risks and benefits of the tobacco product to the population as a whole,” said Brian King, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “The applications for these products did not present sufficient scientific evidence to show that the potential benefit to adult smokers outweighs the risks of youth initiation and use.”
This makes vaping far less desirable for everyone, meaning there is a good chance smokers will continue to smoke, rather than switching to vaping, and suffer for it.
Another thing that most states are doing are punishing retailers that are willing to sell to minors.
This is certainly a huge factor that needs to be addressed, but it will not fix the usage on the part of teens. At the end of the day, if a retailer is shut down for selling to minors, those minors will simply find their source another way, and there are countless ways for them to go about it nowadays.
Final Thoughts – Is It Working?
While these states are operating on misinformation and the demonization of vapes, these laws may be for the better.
So, perhaps introducing more consequences that punish minors that are willing to break the law may be part of the solution – a solution that allows for adults to use vaping to save them from smoking addiction and its risks. Because flavor bans are not the answer.