US raises minimum smoking age to 21 over teen vaping concerns

Though the legal age to purchase alcohol in the United States is 21, the nation's second most popular vice — tobacco smoking — is lower with a minimum purchasing age of 18. That will change sometime next year due to a law recently passed by Congress. Under this new legislation, the federal minimum smoking (and vaping) age has been increased to 21, a decision largely spurred by electronic cigarette concerns.

The decision to increase the federal minimum smoking age isn't terribly surprising; a number of states have already made the decision to increase the minimum age to 21, bringing it in line with the minimum alcohol age. Congress voted in favor of passing the new law on Thursday, a move largely intended to address the increase in vape use.

The number of teenagers who smoke has decreased steadily due, for the most part, to persistent educational campaigns alongside strict enforcement of minimum age requirements. Electronic cigarettes have played a role in that decrease, however, and that's not necessarily a good thing. Public health officials have repeatedly expressed concerns over the rapid rise in teenage vape use, something that has been observed among teenagers who did not have a previous history of tobacco use.

Some high schoolers have reported nicotine addictions fueled by the high strength nicotine liquid solutions offered by many vaping brands. Some deaths related to the EVALI outbreak have likewise impacted very young adults, raising concerns about a new generation of people who will be hooked on nicotine and, as a result, who will experience avoidable health complications and early death.

The American Vaping Association is among the organizations and companies supporting the age increase. Though some critics have complained about the new law, it is largely viewed as a favorable step — one far less drastic than the wholesale banning of these products, which would likely just result in the proliferation of illegally acquired black market products offered beyond the scope of regulations.