New York set to raise statewide tobacco, vaping age

Losing steam: New York is about to raise its minimum vaping age to 21.

Tobacco use may be in decline, but statistics show a sharp rise in “e-cigarette” use – and both remain a catastrophic public-health threat, particularly among younger generations.

To that end, New York State is about to become the 18th state to raise its minimum age for the purchase of tobacco products to 21. The age hike, which also includes e-cigs and vaping products, is set to take effect Nov. 13.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed the age-bump legislation in July, said the new law is meant to both safeguard years of Albany-funded anti-tobacco efforts and to protect young adults from the continued scourge of nicotine addiction, which today disguises itself in a new form.

“We are taking aggressive action to make sure the decades of progress we’ve made to combat tobacco addiction is not undone by a sharp rise in e-cigarette use among younger New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a statement.

So far, the sharp rise is winning. According to the New York State Department of Health, even as cigarette smoking among high schoolers has plummeted (to a record statewide low of 4.3 percent in 2016), e-cigarette use has skyrocketed: Almost 40 percent of New York 12th graders now “vape,” according to the department, and 27 percent of all state high schoolers – a 160 percent increase since 2014.

Andrew Cuomo: “Deadly” habit, “aggressive” response.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fingers vaping as the primary culprit in an outbreak of severe lung illnesses resulting in nearly three dozen deaths nationally, and climbing.

A combination of factors has fueled the increase in use among younger Americans, including (ironically) strong anti-tobacco messaging and the rise of flavored e-liquids, with kid-friendly tastes including mint chocolate, bubblegum and cherry cola setting an alluring tone.

New York, to be sure, isn’t the only place that finds this distasteful. The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday that it plans to ban all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco and menthol, hailed by anti-vaping activists as a direct hit on manufacturers’ teenager-heavy marketing schemes.

But that in no way robs any steam from New York’s much-needed new vaping law, according to Cuomo.

“The goal of this law is simple – to prevent cigarettes and vaping products from getting into the hands of our youth, creating an addiction to a deadly habit,” the governor said.

New York will join Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington as states where the minimum tobacco age has been raised to 21.

More than 500 local municipalities, including the District of Columbia, have passed similar laws. Suffolk County adopted a law in 2009 banning the sale of e-cigarettes and similar products to persons under the age of 21 and prohibiting their use “in public places where traditional forms of smoking are already disallowed,” according to the County Code.

In 2017, Albany also outlawed e-cigarette use in public places, including stadiums and workplaces.