Bills seek to raise smoking, vaping ageJanuary 31, 2020
By CANDY NEAL
Bills are moving in the Indiana General Assembly to raise the smoking and vaping age from 18 to 21 in the state, and to have some enforcement behind that.
There are mixed opinions about doing so, but most agree that it would help as a deterrent.
“If you can delay the onset of usage for nicotine, for alcohol, for other drugs, then we reduce the likelihood of addiction later on,” said Tara Carlisle, coordinator of Dubois County Community Addiction and Recovery Education and Support Coalition, or Dubois County CARES. “Between the ages of 18 and 21 are very critical when it comes to developing an addiction to nicotine.”
Federal law already requires that people be 21 when buying tobacco or vaping products.
The Indiana Senate bill on the age matter, SB 1, has moved to the House of Representatives.
“I supported the bill because I heard from many constituents, the majority of whom supported this change,” said Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem. “Senate Bill 1 puts Indiana in line with the federal law that was just changed to raise the smoking and vaping age to 21. I also talked to young people who wanted the change, because they recognize the prevalence of vaping products in our schools. We know children as young as elementary school are accessing these products and for their safety, we need to limit their accessibility.”
SB 1 also bans the vitamin E acetate, which has been found in some vaping projects and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as the most likely cause of serious lung illness related to vaping. Houchin also has a bill moving through the Senate which bans the additive. Senate Bill 397 also creates a license to sell CBD products for vaping purposes, requires a chain of custody certificate to attest that the products being sold have not been altered, and limits the amount of nicotine that vaping products can contain.
Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, also voted for SB 1.
“Without the state passing enforcement regulations, you would be relying on the federal government to enforce this,” he said. “The federal government doesn’t have the ability to have any enforcement followup. Putting in regulations at the state level allows us to have oversight in the enforcement of the age 21 rule.”
Meanwhile, House 1006 has moved to the Senate. Along with the age change, that bill extends the length of time that a violation of selling to someone underage stays on a store’s record, from six months to three years. If a store gets six violations in that three-year period, it could lose its license. Currently, the stipulation is six violations in a six-month period.
Rep. Steve Bartels, R-Eckerty, voted for the bill, “although I personally wouldn’t have voted for it,” he said. “When I did my survey, 74% of my district said that they wanted this.”
He believes there will be some changes in the penalties for the violations. “I’ve been told there will be some changes in that when it gets to the Senate,” Bartels said. “So I’m hoping to see some positive changes when it comes back.”
When one chamber changes the language in another chamber’s bill, that bill must go back to the original chamber for approval.
Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper voted against the House bill.
“I could go through a pretty long list of things that we allow 18 year olds to do. But we’re raising the smoking age,” he said. “They can vote, they can drive a vehicle, they can fight in a war. They can do all these kinds of things, but we’re telling them they can’t smoke.”
He understands that the federal government has already raised the smoking age. “This is providing penalties,” Lindauer said. “But I still don’t feel right about supporting it. I guess it’s just my Libertarian perspective on it.”
Local groups that work to lessen and stop addictions support the changes.
“What we’re seeing locally is that there are black markets in our high schools,” said Jenna Bieker, coordinator of the Dubois County Substance Abuse Council. “You’re seeing people who are 18 buying the products and then selling them to the ones who are younger. So I’m hoping that the raised age helps with that.”
She supports raising the age. “The brain is not fully developed by age 18. And with vape products, we don’t know all the lasting health effects,” she said. “You’re talking about kids using these products, and we don’t know what the lasting effects will be on their health and development.”
A change like this would affect e-cigarettes for inmates in the Dubois County Security Center. Some of the inmates are 18, 19, and 20.
“I guess, we would have to put everyone under the age of 21 in their own cellblock, so that they don’t interact with the over 21 crowd,” Sheriff Tom Kleinhelter said. “We would 100% not sell them to anyone under the age of 21, if that passed.”
As he pondered the idea, he said that it would affect the atmosphere at the security center.
“Most of our inmates are tobacco users before they get in jail,” he said. “Just to have that nicotine, right or wrong, it does calm them down. You know, everything in their world’s been turned upside down with them being in jail.”
Inmates have thanked him for having the e-cigarettes for that reason. “It really has made our jail a calmer place,” he said.
But if the law did go into affect, Kleinhelter said that adjustments would have to be made. “We wouldn’t want to have someone over 21 buy it and then give it to someone under 21,” Kleinhelter said.
It is not known which bill will become law, but Messmer hopes that one does pass.
“The thought is getting it to age 21 would make it more difficult for access to teenagers and young kids to get their hands on this,” Messmer said.
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