Bill would increase legal age to buy nicotine, tobacco products from 18 to 21
MADISON, Wis. — In Wisconsin, people who are 18 years old can legally buy tobacco or nicotine products. A new bill would raise the legal age to 21.
The lawmakers behind the bill, led by Republican state Sen. Howard Marklein, are hoping to limit access to these products for high school students, whom they said are contributing to a public health crisis.
Brandon Sanchez, who manages Vapor Wireless on South Park Street, said while he supports the changes, he doesn’t think it will solve the public health crisis associated with it.
“More and more, especially lately, we’re seeing older. The average age is going up, I think,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez estimated that only about 10% of his customers are under the age of 20.
Knucklehead’s Tobacco and Vapes manager Landon Meske said the number of people under 21 years old he sells to now is 30%.
National data shows most smokers started smoking when they were teenagers and that the younger people start smoking, the more likely they became addicted.
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea to make people wait a little bit longer,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez acknowledged that while he could lose customers if the bill passes, the majority of his business and those who use tobacco or nicotine products wouldn’t be impacted.
Health departments say raising the minimum age would help solve the health issues related to vaping by keeping vaping devices out of the hands of people who are underage.
“It’s not going to solve the problem,” Meske said. “They will find ways to do it just like they find ways to buy alcohol.”
Sanchez agreed and said, “I don’t think changing the law is necessarily going to stop every single 18 to 20-year-old from vaping but I think it does make it that much more difficult.”
Sanchez said he often has customers come in who are older and have already been smoking cigarettes for a while that are interested in vaping. He said while he does see the occasional 18-to-20-year-old, he believes most of the health risks are stemming from the population of those who are over 21 years old.
Meske said he sees similar customers at his store, even being close to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Meske said educating young people on the risks of tobacco and nicotine would be more effective than changing the minimum age requirement. He said the young people aren’t the majority of the people he sees purchasing tobacco or nicotine products to begin with.
“If you’re looking at purely health reasons, I think there’s still not even close to enough long-term research,” Meske said.
Currently, 18 states have adopted laws that require people to be 21 years old to buy nicotine or tobacco products. A list of those states and the results they’ve seen from the changes can be found here.
The chances of the bill passing are still up in the air. More information about tobacco use and raising the minimum age can be found here.
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