Research & Commentary: Age Restrictions for Electronic Cigarettes in Ohio

Published December 6, 2013

On November 13, the Ohio House of Representative passed House Bill 144, which would prohibit children from buying or accepting alternative nicotine products, the most prominent of which are electronic cigarettes. The bill extends to alternative nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes, also known as “e-cigarettes,” existing laws prohibiting minors from purchasing or distributing tobacco products. It also would allow sellers of the newly regulated products to ask customers for identification in order to validate their age. 

As electronic cigarettes grow in popularity, state and local governments across the nation have initiated efforts to regulate and tax them. Millions of smokers trying to quit have used e-cigarettes, sales of which have doubled in recent years. These devices, which have proven to be effective as nicotine replacement products, have become key components in tobacco harm reduction strategies. 

Prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors enjoys wide support, although opposition has arisen from some anti-smoking groups, who are pushing instead for a full ban on e-cigarettes. These groups oppose the use of the term “alternative nicotine products” in the legislation instead of “tobacco product.” They argue using an alternative term would exempt e-cigarettes from the existing laws against smoking, which they want to apply to e-cigarettes. Defining e-cigarettes as a tobacco product would dramatically increase regulations on them, increase the taxes on them, and limit consumers’ access to them. 

Although most e-cigarettes have nicotine derived from tobacco, they are very different from other tobacco products, and they should not be regulated the same way. E-cigarettes have far fewer consequences for personal and public health, and several studies have found e-cigarettes are an effective and viable option for smokers seeking a nicotine replacement therapy. A recent clinical trial in New Zealand showed e-cigarettes are as effective as nicotine patches in helping smokers quit. The American Association of Public Health Physicians has concluded e-cigarettes “could save the lives of 4 million of the 8 million current adult American smokers who will otherwise die of a tobacco-related illness over the next 20 years.” 

Like many other legal nicotine products, e-cigarettes are not intended for use by minors, and Ohio should take steps to enforce that restriction. Legislators must avoid overregulating and overtaxing e-cigarettes, however, because that would disrupt an increasingly popular and successful method of helping Americans reduce smoking or quit altogether. 

The following articles examine electronic cigarettes and efforts to regulate their sale and use, from multiple perspectives.

Electronic Cigarette Legislation Prohibiting Sale to Minors in Other States
This chart from 2012 outlines the proposals considered in various states to prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.

The Clueless Crusade to Ban E-Cigarettes
Writing for the Reason Foundation, Nick Gillespie discusses the effort to ban e-cigarettes and the motivation behind such bans. 

Regulatory Options for Electronic Cigarettes
This fact sheet from the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium provides a brief overview of e-cigarettes, their potential health risks, gaps in current federal and state regulation, and some approaches state and local governments might consider in regulating their use, pricing, sale, and marketing. 

Research & Commentary: Electronic Cigarettes
Matthew Glans of The Heartland Institute examines tobacco harm reduction and proposals to regulate e-cigarette use. Electronic cigarettes have quickly become one of the most popular nicotine replacement products and a key building block in tobacco harm reduction strategies.

E-Cigarette Regulation: Take Sensible Approach to Help Smokers Quit
Jeff Stier of the National Center for Public Policy Research discusses the efforts to regulate e-cigarettes and why e-cigarettes have come under scrutiny. Stier argues nicotine’s bad reputation comes not from any inherent dangers with the chemical, but with the dangers from its most common delivery device, cigarettes. “Nicotine itself is about as dangerous as the caffeine in soda,” he writes. “Along the same lines, while too much soda can cause weight gain, nobody seriously suggests that caffeine causes obesity. Similarly, e-cigarettes provide the nicotine and the habitual activity of smoking, without the danger of burning tobacco.” 

The Case Against Smoking Bans
Thomas A. Lambert, an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, argues the market is the best place to make decisions regarding smoking. “A laissez-faire approach better accommodates heterogeneous preferences regarding public smoking,” he writes. 

Electronic Cigarettes as a Harm Reduction Strategy for Tobacco Control: A Step Forward or a Repeat of Past Mistakes?
Zachary Cahn and Michael Siegel review the evidence on the safety and efficacy of electronic cigarettes. They then revisit the tobacco harm reduction debate, with a focus on these novel products. Cahn and Siegel conclude electronic cigarettes show tremendous promise in the fight against tobacco-related morbidity and mortality. By dramatically expanding the potential for harm reduction strategies to achieve substantial health gains, e-cigarettes may fundamentally alter the tobacco harm reduction debate. 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland Legislative Specialist Matthew Glans at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].