WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — A new law is raising the minimum age to buy tobacco, vaping, and e-cigarette products.
But will it make it harder for kids to get their hands on them?
13WMAZ reporter Zach Merchant spoke with a vape store manager and a nurse who runs a Macon hospital's 'quit smoking' program to see if they think the law change will make a difference.
The new rules -- recently signed into law by President Donald Trump -- raised the minimum legal age to buy tobacco, as well as e-cigarette and vape products, from 18 to 21-years-old.
The move comes as the number of underage users continue to climb.
The CDC said in 2008 that nearly 5% of middle schoolers reported using an e-cigarette within a 30-day period, according to a CBS News report.
For high schoolers, that number was more than 20%.
In 2019, the CDC said those numbers were even higher.
Is the new law going to change that trend?
WMAZ asked Andrew Cabello, the manager of Cloud City Vapor and E-Cig, that question. He said his store checks every customer's ID and takes safety seriously, but there's only so much they can do.
"Once (the product) walks out (of the store) it's free range for anybody to get once a legal purchase is made," he said.
In other words, he said, it's hard for businesses like his to make sure a legally-purchased product doesn't end up in the hands of someone underage after it leaves their store.
Medical Center Navicent smoking cessation program leader Sally Waldorf was on the same page as Cabello.
"How many kids are going to get somebody older to go buy them for them?" she asked rhetorically. "They're going to get the product one way or another. It might deter some of them but what's really going to help is education."
That education, she said, needs to come from many sources and it needs to come often. She called on teachers, parents, and health care providers to show kids the dangers of vape and e-cig product use.
Beverly Knight Olson Children's Hospital pediatrician Dr. Patricia Tran is somewhat more optimistic about the law change than Waldorf.
"I believe raising the minimum purchase age will be helpful in reducing the access of vape-related products to children and teenagers, but we must understand that children and teenagers are accessing vapes and vaping products when they are under the age of 18 by either ordering them online or having someone they know buy it for them," she wrote in an emailed statement. "This is likely to continue to some extent even after the minimum age is increased."
Waldorf placed some of the blame for the growing underage use on the vape industry's sometimes bright packaging and flavors -- both tactics are often accused of targeting kids.
"Absolutely," she said. "With the flavors and the names...Yeah they're geared toward younger kids."
When asked to respond, Cabello disagreed, saying the marketing appeals to adults.
"We all have the kid inside us," he said. "We see something even when it comes to other things -- it's bright, flashy, 'hey that looks good.' I can see where they're coming from, it might be appeasable (sic) to children but it's just marketing. That's the way it is."
According to a release from the CDC, more than 2,500 people in the United States have been hospitalized as a result of vaping-related illness.
Additional resources include the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line (which helps people dealing with vape and e-cig usage as well as traditional products), and the free stop smoking program at Medical Center, Navicent Health.
Here are the questions we asked Dr. Tran as well as her unedited responses:
Q: How widespread is underage vaping/e-cig use in Central Georgia? (Or statewide if central GA specific figures aren’t available) Is usage increasing or decreasing?
A: According to data gathered by the Georgia Department of Education on their annual Georgia Student Health Survey, in 2019 11% of 12th graders in Bibb County smoked an electronic vapor product in the 30 days preceding the survey. This is similar to the data collected in 2018 and is markedly increased from 2017 when 6.5% of 12th graders who responded reported using an electronic vapor product. In Houston County the numbers are similar, from 8% in 2017 to 13% in 2018 and even higher still to 16% in 2019. In Jones County the numbers have followed the same trends, 13% in 2017, 19% in 2018, and 30% in 2019.
Q: What draws kids to these products?
A: From speaking with my patients and other high schoolers in Macon-Bibb County, there are multiple factors that draw children and teenagers: ease of access, the fact that concealing vape pens and vaping is very easy, that vapes come in many desirable flavors. However my eyes were opened when I was told that stress relief is a major reason many teens vape. Thinking about it, when a teenager feels stressed at home or school by situations or circumstances they feel are out of their control they, like anyone else, will reach for something they CAN control.
Q: Will raising the minimum age to purchase these products from 18 to 21 be effective at reducing the number of kids using vaping products?
A: I believe raising the minimum purchase age will be helpful in reducing the access of vape-related products to children and teenagers, but we must understand that children and teenagers are accessing vapes and vaping products when they are under the age of 18 by either ordering them online or having someone they know buy it for them. This is likely to continue to some extent even after the minimum age is increased.
Q: What can parents and educators do to keep kids away from vaping products?
A: Parents and educators can start with educating themselves on the dangers of vaping. There are many excellent resources available both online and in-person at your pediatrician’s office or local health department. I frequently direct parents to HealthChildren.org for parent information directly from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
They can learn what vape pens look like - I have heard of pens that resemble anything from a USB flash drive to a fountain pen to even an asthma inhaler.
Most importantly though parents and educators can talk to children and teenagers frankly in language they can understand about why they are interested in vaping and addressing the root cause that is drawing them to vape.
CBS News reports a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration said Friday that the change simply increased the age limit in an existing law, so it was able to go into effect immediately.
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