Editorial: Raising smoking ages will help protect teens

Vaping has become a hot topic among politicians. Photo courtesy Flickr/Creative Commons

Gov. Ned Lamont recently announced a number of legislative goals pertaining to both budgetary and social issues. One of the social changes Lamont proposed is raising the age for purchasing tobacco and vaping products to 21. While many have come out in support of this move in regard to traditional cigarettes, whose dangerous health risks are extremely well-documented, opinions over raising the vaping age have been more mixed. Critics argue that vaping is safer than traditional smoking, and raising the ages for both products might incentivize the latter. Adding to this motivation is the fact that Lamont is also imposing a 75 percent tax on vaping products in order to counter growing use by the youth population.

There is a widespread belief that vaping is safer than traditional cigarettes. While there may be some truth to this, it is difficult to know for sure because there have been no long-term studies on the effects of vaping. Even if vaping is healthier, it is by no means healthy. Studies suggest flavorings used in e-cigarettes may damage blood vessels and the heart. Other findings have shown that vaping has a negative effect on lung function. Like cigarettes, e-cigarettes generally include nicotine. This chemical is highly addictive, especially for younger smokers whose brains are still developing.

In light of these dangers, it is no surprise that the Lamont Administration has taken steps to curb vaping. The practice is certainly prevalent among UConn students, whereas it is rare to see someone smoking tobacco. While younger students may be frustrated by the age change, they should understand that the move is informed by a desire to mitigate health risks. While a 21 year old is just as susceptible to harmful chemicals and toxins, their brains are more developed and are less likely to succumb to nicotine addiction (although it is certainly still an issue). Furthermore, raising the vaping age also makes it less likely that adolescents will get their hands on them and become hooked.

We will not fully grasp the dangers of e-cigarettes for some time. However, we certainly have enough preliminary evidence to indicate that they are dangerous. Erring on the side of caution is to our benefit, we certainly don’t want a significant portion of a generation to be addicted to a hazardous product. E-cigarettes are a new epidemic, and if policymakers aren’t taking steps to combat their use among the most vulnerable members of the population, then they are complicit in any damage they cause. Regardless of how state lawmakers feel about the rest of Lamont’s budget, raising the age for smoking and vaping should be a priority.