After a months-long news cycle of mysterious illnesses and deaths, new studies citing the dangers of prolonged use and a general shift in public tolerance to invasive, fruit-scented clouds in crowded areas—vapings’ day of reckoning has come at both the local and national levels. However, while Nevada’s new law is a public health win, the federal intentions are confusing at best.
Starting Jan. 1 in Nevada, vaping will be banned in areas like movie theaters, shopping malls, child care facilities and bars and restaurants that don’t prohibit minors, while still allowed in spaces that require patrons be 21 or older. The law expands the state’s clean-air law, which governs the use of traditional smoking, and makes these changes in the interest of protecting the public from second-hand smoke—which makes sense.
The prevailing myth around vaping has always been that it is somehow “safer” than cigarettes because no actual tobacco is being burned. Despite shoddy science behind that claim, many users have readily made the decision for themselves and everyone else around them—with entire subcultures of the trend creating YouTube tutorials and trading knowledge on how to blow the densest, most prolific puffs possible.
As more information has come to light about the potential health risks concerned (including from Reno’s Desert Research Institute, which in August 2018 found “a significant amount of cancer-causing chemicals stays in lungs” while vaping), this law is a natural progression that squares a user’s right to vape with the public’s right to clean air.
However, Congress’ decision to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 as part of the national spending bill signed by President Trump on Dec. 20 seems like an overreach in comparison—one that trades personal liberties for a quick-fix scheme to address youth vaping. For one, according to Ballotpedia.org, at least a third of states already raised the minimum purchase age to 21, begging the question why a national law was needed in the first place when the framework for allowing states to choose their own solutions already existed.
Proponents say the law will stop highschool-aged teens from having older friends buy products for them—assuming none of the nation’s teens have 21-year-old friends—while opponents, including Matthew Myers, president of the non-profit organization Tobacco Free Kids, say the law is a smokescreen designed to stave off further regulation.
“This agreement leaves out the most impactful action Congress could take: A prohibition on flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes,” Myers wrote in a Dec. 11 statement.
Raising the consumption age assumes that minors will abandon vaping after being inconvenienced at the point of sale, while leaving the spectrum of flavored products they enjoy—legally or not—untouched.