On Dec. 2, the President signed legislation that amended the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, making it illegal for retailers to sell tobacco products (Juuls, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes, chewing tobacco etc.) to individuals under the age of 21. Before the amendment, Alabamians could buy tobacco products at 19 years old.
The new law is supposed to help tackle the issue of smoking among young adults, and to hopefully prevent the development of nicotine addictions.
In a news release from the Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris pronounced support for the increase in buying and consumption age.
“Most people who smoke start before they turn 21, and adolescent brains are especially susceptible to nicotine addiction,” Harris stated.
Smoking continues to play a significant health risk in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control, tobacco usage is the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S with more than 480,000 deaths from tobacco related health complications reported annually.
In Alabama alone, smoking kills 8,600 people each year. Smoking acts as an expensive killer too; the Alabama Department of Public Health reports that that the state spends more than $1.88 billion annually on health care costs related directly to smoking.
Freshman sociology major Niko Kennedy thinks that smoking among young people does constitute a substantive risk.
“We were supposed to be the generation that was going to stop smoking. You know, then Juul and stuff, and e-cigarettes came out and it kinda just spiraled. Now middle schoolers are juuling and stuff,” Kennedy said. But there is an epidemic, I will say there is no denying it.”
Childhood tobacco use is in fact a problem in the U.S. According to the American Lung Association, in 2015, about half of middle and high school students reported using two or more tobacco products in the past 30 days. The American Lung Association reports that everyday almost 2,500 children under age 18 try their first cigarette, and 400 of them will become daily smokers. Half will die from it.
This new tobacco age is not the first attempt at trying to stop childhood use. The Food and Drug Administration issued a policy that banned all e-cigarette cartridges with flavoring that appeals to children. Flavors affected included fruit and mint flavors. This only left tobacco and menthol flavoring.
But many students are skeptical about whether this law will be effective in stopping underage tobacco use, or if it will simply be ignored. Many believe that people will find a way around the law by getting older friends to buy for tobacco products for them.
“Is it harder? Yes,” Kennedy stated. “But people are gonna smoke anyway. It’s just how it is.”
Some students believe the law isn’t sufficient enough to accomplish anything. Freshman coms Kevonte Hall believes that if the government truly wanted to decrease childhood tobacco usage then it would put more restrictions on tobacco companies.
“I think this law was more for Congress to say that they did something,” Hall said. “If they were actually going to do something, they would target tobacco companies, vape companies and put more policies and stuff on them.”
Tobacco companies have a variety of different marketing strategies they use to try and encourage new smokers, the American Lung Association reports. Many of these strategies are targeted towards specific age, gender and racial and ethnic groups. The industry was also one of the first to start crafting marketing strategies that target the LGBT community.
Studies show a correlation between the price of cigarettes and the number of young people smoking; every 10% rise in price causes a 7% reduction in youth consumption.
As such, the way tobacco products are priced can be a strategy to increase the number of new smokers. In 2016, the largest category of expenditures for marketing in the tobacco industry went towards giving price discounts to cigarette retailers. Price discounts combatted state cigarette sales taxes, and made cigarettes cheaper for young people to buy.
Young people aren’t the only ‘priority populations’ tobacco companies target. African- Americans, Indigenous Peoples, women and the LGBT community are all demographics the tobacco industry deems essential to advertise towards.
The age restriction provision comes attached to a $1.4 trillion spending package that included $1.4 billion reserved for building a wall at the southern border of the U.S, as well as authorizes the Space Force branch of the military and grants paid parental leave to federal employees.
Caleb Jones is a graduate of the University of Montevallo. He has a major in Communication Studies, and minored in Multimedia Journalism and Spanish. He is a former news beat reporter with The Alabamian, and plans on pursuing a career in investigative reporting after graduation. Have a tip? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org