Just like tax hikes, which don’t curb cigarette consumption, laws forbidding teens from buying tobacco products don’t work. Despite that fact, Indiana lawmakers are pushing a new bill that would increase the legal age for buying tobacco products, claiming the effort would help protect kids from vaping.
With the Tobacco to 21 Act, Sen. Todd Young wants to keep anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing any tobacco products, including vaping and other e-cigarette items.
During a school event discussing his bill, Young said that teens are putting their health at risk as vaping becomes increasingly popular among high school students.
“That is a trend line that is unsustainable and incredibly dangerous. We have a national epidemic on our hands,” he said. “We have a moral imperative to act.”
Following in the footsteps of lawmakers in other states, the Indiana senator wants to prevent teens from vaping by making it illegal for them to purchase related products. In order to justify his move, he cites studies that show that teen vaping has turned into an epidemic nationwide and that e-cigarette use increased 48 percent for young teens and 78 percent for high school students between 2017 and 2018.
But despite his claims, what other experiments in government criminalization of drugs and other substances show is that any top-down restriction will only force young consumers into the black market. And as we all know, the black market isn’t known for producing high-quality products.
Furthermore, prohibition is nothing but an immoral act, as it intends to impose certain standards on individuals who should be naturally free to make their own decisions.
Government Can’t Legislate Morality
During his school event promoting the Tobacco to 21 Act, a local high school junior who spoke to the press in support of the bill ended up making the case against Young’s proposed law.
She told the press that pods used in vaping devices are being handed out to younger teens by their older siblings or classmates and that this practice is helping to make vaping more popular. Her claims are not only based on what she sees, as they are also backed by data that show that most tobacco consumed by underage users comes from older friends or siblings.
But when Young claimed that keeping teens from buying tobacco products would help, the student actually explained why similar laws don’t work, as teens who want to vape will simply ask older people to do their shopping for them. To young tobacco consumers without older siblings, options would include going to the black market for products that are often stolen or poorly produced, putting their safety at stake.
Furthermore, what would keep these young teens from buying loose cigarettes in the black market?
With studies suggesting that 40 percent of teens who vape end up transitioning to cigarettes, it wouldn’t be farfetched to believe the prohibition would give young users an extra incentive to ditch the vape pen for something easier to buy.
In other words, Young could actually be worsening the crisis, as he would force young smokers to switch to something much harsher. In a state where the smoking rate is 50 percent higher than the national average, it would be naïve to think teens wouldn’t have access to people selling cigarettes in the black market.
In the past, Indiana lawmakers failed to pass similar pieces of legislation, despite polls suggesting Hoosiers support age restrictions. But whether state residents support the bill or not, efforts such as Young’s should never see the light of day.
After federal regulators made vaping more appealing to teens, it is now the states’ turn to help to reduce the appeal, as making it illegal for teens to purchase these products would only add to the experience.
It’s high time for lawmakers to learn that laws that restrict people’s consumption will not produce the desired effect. What’s worse, they often create dangers that are often overlooked by supporters of these bills, putting consumers in greater danger.
If the goal is to protect teens, then raising the legal age for buying tobacco products isn’t the way.