TOBACCO 21 LAWS DO NOT REDUCE YOUTH E-CIGARETTE USE

May 1, 2019

KEY POINTS:

  • Heartland’s State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud examines the effects of Tobacco 21 laws on youth e-cigarette use in Hawaii and Massachusetts.

  • Hawaii was the first state to implement T-21 laws, going into effect January 1, 2016.

    • In 2015, 22.2 and 5.0 percent of Hawaiian high school and middle school students, respectively, reported ever using an e-cigarette product, according to the 2015 Hawai’i Youth Tobacco Survey.

    • Moreover, 12.9 percent of high school students and 7.6 percent of middle school students reported current e-cigarette use, or any use of an e-cigarette product within 30 days of the survey.

  • Despite T-21 taking effect in 2016, data from the 2017 Hawai’i Youth Tobacco Survey found e-cigarette use among high school and middle school students actually increased.

    • In 2017, 39.4 percent of high school students reported use of e-cigarettes—a 43 percent rise.  

    • Hawaiian high school students reporting current use of e-cigarettes (within the past 30 days) also increased to 20.9 percent—a 38 percent surge.

  • Counties in Massachusetts passed T-21 in 2015, and also reported rise in youth e-cigarette use.

  • In the 2019 Massachusetts Prevention Needs Assessment Survey, data from the 2018 YRBS survey found use of e-cigarette products slightly decreased.

    • However, current use increased among high school students with 28.9 percent of 10th graders and 28.9 percent of 12th graders reporting use of e-cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the survey.

    • Even worse, current e-cigarette use among 10th graders increased by more than 37 percent from 2016 to 2018.

  • Other states have proposed taxing e-cigarettes to deter youth use, but analysis from Heartland finds youth use increases, even after taxes are applied.

  • In 2016, Pennsylvania passed a 40 percent wholesale tax on vaping products. In 2017, e-cigarette use among 10th and 12th graders increased from 20.4 and 27 percent respectively, in 2015, to 21.9 and 29.3 percent in 2017.

In response to a so-called nationwide youth e-cigarette use epidemic, lawmakers have introduced dozens of bills that would increase their state’s tobacco and vaping product purchasing age from 18 years of age to 21. As of late April, 14 states and more than 400 localities have raised the tobacco product purchasing age to 21.

Lawmakers mistakenly believe the new age limit will reduce youth use of tobacco products and e-cigarettes. However, existing data from Tobacco 21 (T-21) laws in several states indicate these laws have little effect on curbing youth e-cigarette use.

Hawaii was the first state to raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21, which went into effect January 1, 2016. In 2015, 22.2 and 5.0 percent of Hawaiian high school and middle school students, respectively, reported ever using an e-cigarette product, according to the 2015 Hawai’i Youth Tobacco Survey. Moreover, 12.9 percent of high school students and 7.6 percent of middle school students reported current e-cigarette use, or any use of an e-cigarette product within 30 days of the survey.

Despite T-21 taking effect in 2016, data from the 2017 Hawai’i Youth Tobacco Survey found e-cigarette use among high school and middle school students actually increased. In 2017, 39.4 percent of high school students reported use of e-cigarettes—a 43 percent rise. Additionally, Hawaiian high school students reporting current use of e-cigarettes (within the past 30 days) also increased to 20.9 percent—a 38 percent surge.

What’s more, Hawaiian middle school students’ use of e-cigarettes also increased. In 2017, 21.9 percent of middle school students reported e-cigarette use—an increase of 77 percent from 2015. Current e-cigarette use among middle school students grew to 11.5 percent.

Unfortunately, Hawaii isn’t the only state to pass T-21 and experience more youth e-cigarette use. Localities in Massachusetts began passing T-21 legislation in 2013. In 2018 the Bay State passed a statewide T-21 proposal. Although it is too early to examine the effects of the statewide T-21 legislation, county-level data indicate T-21has not decreased youth e-cigarette use.

Data from the 2016 Franklin County/North Quabbin Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) found a significant amount of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes, despite numerous localities in Franklin County having passed T-21 legislation in 2015.

In the 2016 YRBS, 17 percent of 8th graders, 36 percent of 10th graders, and 51 percent of 12th graders reported ever using vapor products. Nine percent of 8th graders, 18 percent of 10th graders, and 28 percent of 12th graders reported current use of e-cigarettes.

In the 2019 Massachusetts Prevention Needs Assessment Survey, data from the 2018 YRBS survey found use of e-cigarette products slightly decreased. However, current use increased among high school students with 28.9 percent of 10th graders and 28.9 percent of 12th graders reporting use of e-cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the survey. Even worse, current e-cigarette use among 10th graders increased by more than 37 percent from 2016 to 2018.

The findings from misguided T-21 laws in Hawaii and Massachusetts reveals age restrictions do not deter youth e-cigarette use. Other states have proposed high taxes on vaping products to help reduce youth e-cigarette use. However, existing research finds youth e-cigarette use increases even after onerous taxes are applied to these devices.  

An analysis by The Heartland Institute examined the effects of Pennsylvania’s 2016 40 percent wholesale tax on vaping products. According to the 2015 Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS), 15.5 percent of middle and high school students reported using an e-cigarette within the past 30 days. In 2017, PAYS found this increased to 16.3 percent of middle and high school students. Notably, e-cigarette use among 10th and 12th graders increased from 20.4 and 27 percent respectively, in 2015, to 21.9 and 29.3 percent in 2017.

T-21 laws do not reduce youth e-cigarette use. In fact, e-cigarette use among young adults is increasing, despite more states and localities restricting access to tobacco and vaping products. Policymakers should understand the effects of T-21 laws prior to restricting access to tobacco harm reduction products.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute or Tobacco Harm Reduction 101.

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