Editorial: Law just part of youth vaping fix
A new law will not stop young smokers. Or vapers.
On Thursday, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly moved ahead with legislation that would change the legal age to buy tobacco products — whether traditional cigarettes or the newer e-cigarette devices and their fluids — to 21.
The House supported it 135-49. The Senate margin was even greater at 44-5. The governor is expected to sign it.
The threshold now is 18. But a 2018 Federal Drug Administration survey showed a rapidly rising number of middle schoolers — kids 11 to 14 — admit to vaping. The numbers went up 48% in one year. (And all the kids who vape admitted to it, right? Kids are really honest about breaking the rules.)
In high school, use rose 78%. One in 5 respondents noted daily vaping.
So the new law might not make a big difference. But passing it is still important.
A lot of our laws aren’t passed because we expect the behavior to stop with the casting of a vote and the swipe of a pen. Instead, they become a line in the sand.
Murder has been illegal since Moses came down the mountain. Theft is illegal. So is rape and selling drugs and driving drunk. Every one of those things happens every day. The law didn’t stop the crime from happening.
But having a law defines the parameters. It makes shady areas a little less gray. Maybe most important, a law is part of what we find acceptable as a society and what we don’t.
And that perception may have more of an impact than moving the age limit itself.
In recent years, as tobacco use became socially unpopular and laws limited where it could happen, youth use changed. From 2011 to 2018, the number of kids who tried or started smoking fell, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. E-cigs that seemed safer and more socially acceptable saw a spike.
But the deaths attributed to vaping products with Vitamin E acetate have shown there are still dangers.
The law is important, but if we want to protect kids from lifelong addictions to tobacco products, we have to follow up laws with the kind of social distaste that has fenced in cigarettes.