Kansas will consider raising age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes

Officials said Tuesday they will seek an increase in the minimum age in Kansas to purchase tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, from 18 to 21.

Education and health officials say the change is needed because of the drastic increase in young people vaping, or using e-cigarettes.

“It has exploded. It is an epidemic,” said Mark Thompson, a program consultant with the Kansas State Department of Education.

Officials told the State Board of Education that a bill to raise the age is being prepared for the 2020 Kansas legislative session, which starts in January.

The proposal coincides with increasing efforts by education and health officials to reduce vaping in schools. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Kansas State Department of Education are distributing more information and posters to schools warning about the health dangers of vaping. A Kansas Vape-Free Schools toolkit is available here.

Smoking cessation advocates say the use of e-cigarettes has reversed nearly two decades of progress in reducing teen addiction to nicotine. JUUL e-cigarette devices are small and concealable, looking like a thumb drive or memory stick.

In Kansas, local governments can enact their own youth access regulations for tobacco, according to Tobacco 21, a national campaign. The group said 22 local governments have raised the age, covering 27 percent of the state’s population.

But a state law would cover the entire state. Tobacco 21 says 16 states have approved raising the smoking age to 21.

From 2017 to 2018, e-cigarette use by U.S. high school students increased from 11.7 percent to 20.8 percent. In 2017, almost 35 percent of Kansas high school students reported they’d tried e-cigarettes and 10.6 percent said they regularly used them. Educators have said they have seen even seen middle school students addicted to vaping and that some students are using the devices to smoke marijuana and use other illegal drugs.

Alarmed by the increase, the State Board of Education formed a working group that has provided recommendations to better inform students, parents and the general public about the dangers of e-cigarettes. KASB has been part of the working group and provides advise to boards and districts that wish to adopt or strengthen anti-smoking and anti-vaping policies.

In addition, Congress is considering federal legislation to raise the age to purchase tobacco products.

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