Youth Vaping: Minimum Age Tobacco Laws Address Teen Smoking Epidemic
The news was tragic. Dallas County Health and Human Services reported the death of a Texas teenager. The 15-year-old was the youngest victim to die from vaping-related lung injury.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the grim milestone is among 2,602 lung injury cases that required hospitalization and 59 deaths linked to vaping. Although deaths seem to be slowing, states are still reporting new fatalities every week, and more deaths are being investigated.
Vaping involves inhaling and exhaling an aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device. The fine particles within the vapor are often extracted from tobacco and contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and heart disease.
Congress passed a law last year raising the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. But states are passing their own laws because enforcement is usually done on the local and state level.
Cigarette Companies Play ‘Good Guys’
Although vaping is among the products included under the new legislation, will the new limits make it any more difficult for kids to get their hands on tobacco? Stuart Ratzan, an attorney with Ratzan, Weissman and Boldt, isn’t so sure the new federal law will be effective.
“Cigarette companies love this type of legislation,” said Ratzan, who made national headlines last year on behalf of a Saint Petersburg, Fla. woman whose 1996 lung cancer death and retrial resulted in a verdict against tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris and a $42.5 million award to the deceased smoker’s family.
Ratzan said tobacco companies are masters at playing the “good guy” by throwing their weight behind legislation that puts age limits and warnings on their products.
“Tobacco companies have studied youth psychology for decades,” he said. “They know what we all know: limiting cigarettes to only adults is the perfect incentive for children to start to use tobacco products. Children, especially teenagers, crave adult-like images and activities.”
Smoking Begins at Early Age
Ratzan said the path to tobacco addiction begins at an early age. In fact, the Surgeon General reports that nine out of 10 smokers have already begun lighting up by the age of 18. For this reason, Ratzan said, tobacco companies are not very concerned about age limits on tobacco.
A 1982 internal memo authored by an employee of tobacco manufacturer R.J. Reynolds proves his point: “If a man has never smoked by age 18, the odds are three-to-one he never will. By age 24, the odds are twenty-to-one.”
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It causes more than 480,000 deaths each year. That is nearly 1 in 5 deaths, or 1,300 deaths every day. In Florida alone, cigarette smoking is responsible for 32,300 deaths every year.
Among youth, e-cigarettes are more popular than any traditional tobacco product. Although a report from the National Academy of Medicine revealed that raising the age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21 could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, Ratzan said more regulations do not necessarily mean equal enforcement.
“Those who want to smoke will probably have no problem obtaining tobacco to abuse,” the Miami-based attorney said. “The cigarette companies know how difficult it is to enforce the age limits. So, they always publicly support age limits. And they profit from them.”
Addiction is Real
Because both e-cigarettes or vaping and regular cigarettes contain nicotine, health experts believe they may be as addictive as heroin and cocaine. What’s worse, doctors say many e-cigarette users get even more nicotine than they would from a tobacco product.
Smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body. More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking. For every person who dies because of smoking, at least 30 people live with a serious smoking-related illness including cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
If you or a family member have suffered an injury as a result of smoking cigarettes, vaping or exposure to second-hand smoke, you can file a lawsuit against the tobacco companies. Because these companies will be aggressive in their defense, the highly experienced team of attorneys at Ratzan, Weissman and Boldt is prepared to assist you in this complex litigation.