The legal smoking age in Ohio will officially jump to 21 this fall, and health officials are praising the action as a step toward reducing tobacco and vape use by youth.
The two-year, $69 billion state budget signed last week by Gov. Mike DeWine prohibits the sale of all tobacco and vaping products to anyone under 21, including items such as rolling papers and nicotine-infused liquids. DeWine vetoed a budget clause that would have grandfathered in smoking and vaping rights to anyone born before Oct. 1, 2001.
Raising the legal age for smoking is projected to cost the state about $20 million annually in cigarette taxes. But DeWine has said the raise in age is meant to discourage tobacco and vape use among youth between 18- and 21-years-old, the point at which most begin the habits.
Ohio joins 17 other states in initiating a 21 and over law regarding tobacco use, including California, Virginia, Washington, and Illinois. Hawaii’s Tobacco 21 initiative was signed into law in 2016.
According to the website Truth Initiative, in Ohio in 2013 just over 15% of high school students smoked cigarettes at least once over a 30-day period. During the same time period, 8.6% used chew, snuff or dip, and 11.5% smoked some kind of cigar product. The website also listed health care costs due to smoking at $5.6 billion annually.
Ohio Department of Health spokesperson Mandy Burkett said the change in legal smoking age will be a landmark public health issue in Ohio. “It will protect about 2 1/2 million youth under the age of 18,” she said. “It’s going to save lives, prevent lifelong addictions, and make a huge difference.”
Statistics provided by the Institute of Medicine in Boston, Mass., show that raising the smoking age to 21 will decrease the adult rate of smoking by 12%, and decrease smoking initiation among youth ages 15-17 by 25%.
The Swanton Area Community Coalition is in favor of the move.
“Raising the age to 21 will limit access to youth and hopefully prevent them from ever starting to use tobacco products,” said Andrea Smith, Swanton Area Community Coalition executive director. “We support the efforts of the Tobacco 21 initiative in helping to keep our youth healthy.”
Burkett said raising the legal smoking age to 21 has been challenged in minor ways in other states “but I doubt any challenge would be successful.”
Beth Thomas, director for Fulton County’s Healthy Choice’s Caring Communities program, said local data revealed older youth buying vape products and either selling them to or sharing them with underage youth.
“By increasing the purchase age to 21, it will decrease the daily interactions between those of legal purchase age for tobacco and middle school and high school youth,” Thomas said.
Data from the Fulton County Health Department over the past 12 months shows youth using the following tobacco products: e-cigarettes/vapes, 17%; cigarettes, 8%; Swishers, 6%; Black & Milds, 4%; chewing tobacco, snuff or dip, 4%; cigars, 4%; cigarillos, 3%; hookah, 3%; little cigars, 1%; pouch tobacco, 1%.
Thomas said the majority of county youth make healthy choices across all substances, “but we certainly are concerned because e-cigarette use has increased significantly.” She added that the local community “is very invested in our young people.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.