By Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy

E-cigarettes and vaping have become more popular among teenagers than smoking traditional cigarettes. They have surpassed cigarettes as the most frequently used nicotine products among teens. A 2016 report from the US Surgeon General showed that e-cigarette use by high school students had increased by 900%. According to a 2016 National Youth Tobacco survey, 1.7 million high school and 500,000 middle school students reported using e-cigarettes or vaping devices in the past 30 days. Most of these underaged users reported gaining access to products from classmates who were 18 years of age or older – keep in mind that approximately 80% of high school students turn 18 before graduation.

While vaping may be a viable alternative to adult smoking, it should not be accessible to teenagers. As a mother of two, I am concerned about the growing use of teen vaping. The US Surgeon General has stated that nicotine can pose a risk to the development of the brain by disrupting the growth of neural circuits that are responsible for attention, learning, impulse control, and addiction. “I think the science is clear that raising the age of when youth can purchase these tobacco products to 21 has clear public health benefits. There’s no doubt about that. The science part of this policy equation is clear: Tobacco 21 works,” said Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General.

In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act which required states to raise the age for purchasing and possessing alcohol to 21. Right now, sixteen states and the District of Columbia require their citizens to be 21 to purchase tobacco products. The population in these areas already constitutes 47% of the United States and includes California, Illinois, New York, Texas and Virginia. Nevada is not one of the areas where you must be 21 to buy tobacco products. There has been a bipartisan national push to increase the age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. Recently, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), both major tobacco producing states, have put forth a bill known as the Tobacco Free Youth Act that aims to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. This bill has received bipartisan support from Senator Dick Durbin (DIL) and Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), but like many issues at the federal level, passage of this legislation is far from certain. That is why I spearheaded the effort in the Nevada State Assembly this past session to do what many states have already accomplished – to change our legal age for smoking and vaping to 21 by 2021.

There were two opportunities during the 2019 Legislative Session where attempts were made to tackle this issue. The first occurred during the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 263 when Democrats failed to accept a bi-partisan amendment which would have statutorily raised the lawful age to purchase vaping and tobacco products to 21 years old. The second opportunity came when a bill that I co-sponsored, Assembly Bill (AB) 544, was introduced to align the smoking age with other adult products. This bill was passed out of the Assembly with overwhelming support but died in the Democrat controlled Senate without receiving a hearing or vote.

I want to acknowledge the courage of my Republicans colleagues, along with several Democrat colleagues, in standing up to do what is right for the children of this state. As we move forward, I will continue to work with my fellow legislators and stakeholders to sponsor legislation in the 81st Legislative Session to raise the legal age to purchase nicotine products to 21. By raising the age to legally purchase vaping and tobacco products to 21 in Nevada, countless lives can be saved, and children will not suffer from the harmful effects of using vaping and tobacco products. Just like education, the health of our children is critical to the safety of our children and the future of our great state.