West Virginia lawmakers recently introduced legislation in the House and Senate that would “ban the sale of tobacco products to persons under the age of 21.” The legislation applies to cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, and vaping devices. The bill maintains a penalty for persons under the age of 18 being in possession of tobacco products, but persons aged 18 to 20 years of age are not subject to any penalty if in possession of a tobacco product.
Although the authors intend the legislation to reduce youth consumption of tobacco products, there is scant evidence that increasing the age to 21 has any effect on youth tobacco use. Moreover, West Virginia invests nothing in state tobacco settlement payments and taxes on tobacco education and prevention efforts. Even worse, the inclusion of e-cigarettes is a disservice to public health efforts aiming to help people quit combustible cigarettes.
Though legislation designed to deter youth tobacco use is laudable, such measures are ineffective as indicated by the apparent youth consumption of products currently restricted to adults 21 years of age and older.
For instance, in the 2018 Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs, the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes more than 53 percent of 12th graders and more than 37 percent of 10th graders reported consuming alcohol in the past year. According to state law a person “younger than 21 in West Virginia may not buy, possess, consume, or sell alcohol.” Those found in violation can be subject to “a fine up to $500, up to 72 hours in jail (or a juvenile detention facility), or both.”
Currently, the fine for a first violation of possession of tobacco product is only $50 and a requirement “to serve eight hours of community service.” Subsequent violations increase to $100 and 16 hours of community service and $200 and 24 hours of community service. These are relatively minimal deterrents as compared to penalties imposed for alcohol possession.
The bills also fail to address the social sources that furnish tobacco products to underage consumers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found nearly 90 percent of tobacco users started smoking before age 18. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration study found that 86 percent of youths aged “15 to 17 years old obtained cigarettes by asking someone else,” and 89 percent relied on these sources for e-cigarettes. These so-called social sources include siblings, friends, parents, and even strangers. As indicated by the aforementioned 53 percent of 12th graders consuming alcohol, youth are able to already find social sources to help provide them with products restricted to persons 21 years and older and will continue to rely on these sources for tobacco products.
More problematic is how West Virginia currently allocates tobacco funding on cessation programs. In 2018, the Mountain State “received [an estimated] $332 million in tobacco settlement payments and taxes.” In the same year, West Virginia “allocated in $0 in state funds to tobacco prevention.” West Virginia is one of three states that dedicated no state funding for cessation efforts in 2018. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends West Virginia spend $27.4 million, or eight percent of the revenues received from tobacco settlements and taxes, to adequately fund the state’s tobacco prevention efforts.
West Virginia is notorious for not using tobacco settlement funding on cessation efforts. The Mountain State was the fourth state to sue tobacco manufacturers in the 1990s and was involved in the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. In 2007, West Virginia sold future MSA “payments to bondholders for $911 million, using more than $800 million of that bond to shore up the critically underfunded Teachers Retirement System.”
Deeply troublesome is the inclusion of vaping devices and e-cigarettes, or tobacco harm reduction (THR) products. Research increasingly finds that it is the smoke in combustible cigarettes that causes the most harm. E-cigarettes are a disruptive technology providing users with nicotine without the associated harms found in combustible cigarettes. Public Health England found e-cigarettes to be “95% safer than smoking.” The Royal College of Physicians found e-cigarette use “unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco.” The American Cancer Society has even found electronic cigarettes use to be “less harmful than smoking cigarettes.”
Rather than limit consumer choices, lawmakers in West Virginia would better serve public health by reforming the way they currently use tobacco settlement payments and taxes. Also, it is doubtful that increasing the age of purchasing tobacco will impact youth smoking habits, and the inclusion of THR products in these bills is a disservice to public health.
The following articles provide more information about tobacco harm reduction.
Vaping, E-Cigarettes, and Public Policy Toward Alternatives to Smoking
For decades, lawmakers and regulators have used taxes, bans, and burdensome regulations as part of their attempt to reduce the negative health effects of smoking. Recently, some have sought to extend those policies to electronic cigarettes. This booklet from The Heartland Institute urges policymakers to re-think that tax-and-regulate strategy. Policymakers should be mindful of the extensive research that supports tobacco harm reduction and understand bans, excessive regulations, and high taxes on e-cigarettes often encourage smokers to continue using more-harmful traditional cigarette products.
Podcast Series: Voices of Vapers
In this weekly podcast series, State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud talks with researchers, advocates, and policymakers about tobacco harm reduction and electronic cigarettes. The series provides important information about the thousands of entrepreneurs who have started small businesses thanks to THRs and the millions of adults that have used electronic cigarettes and vaping devices to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes.
Research & Commentary: Cities and Sates Consider Increasing Tobacco Age Limit to 21, Regulating ENDS as Tobacco Products
Heartland Institute State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud examines the states and municipalities that are considering increasing their smoking age from 18 to 21. Stroud says such laws fail to substantially curb consumption, and she argues the inclusion of tobacco harm reduction tools, such as e-cigarettes and vaping devices, would negatively impact the health gains these products have been repeatedly shown to provide.
Research & Commentary: Study Finds E-Cigarettes Would Prevent 6.6 Million Premature Deaths
Heartland Institute State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud examines an October 2017 Tobacco Control study that found electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) might help extend life for millions of people. The authors of the study found there was an estimated 6.6 million fewer deaths and more than 86 million fewer-life-years lost over a ten year period because of ENDS products. Stroud concludes the use of ENDS could also help improve the budgets of numerous state programs, including Medicaid.
Research & Commentary: Public Health Officials Urge Use of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems
Heartland Institute State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud notes the importance of NHS Health Scotland’s joint statement encouraging the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) as an alternative to tobacco products. NHS Health Scotland, Public Health England, and other groups have found ENDS are 95 percent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.
Research & Commentary: Qualitative Study on E-cigarettes Shows More Evidence of Tobacco Harm Reduction
Heartland Institute State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud examines a study, published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in June 2016, that provides additional evidence showing e-cigarettes and vaporized nicotine products (VNPs) are an effective tobacco harm-reduction tool.
E-Cigarette Primer for State and Local Lawmakers
Dr. Joel Nitzkin, a senior fellow in tobacco policy for the R Street Institute, provides evidence e-cigarettes work as a tobacco harm reduction modality and reviews the arguments against them. He closes with recommendations for actions state and local lawmakers should and should not consider regarding tobacco harm reduction and e-cigarettes.
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 Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, our Consumer Freedom Lounge, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.
The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus, host an event in your state, or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Lindsey Stroud, Heartland’s state government relations manager at [email protected] or 757/354-8170.