Pleased about new federal minimum

Published 9:19 pm Friday, December 27, 2019

Count me among the people who were very pleased on Friday to see the news break that the federal legal age to purchase tobacco and vaping products across the United States is now 21. (Virginia made that change last year.)

To explain why, I’ll have to take you way back to the summer of 1968. The Hampton Coliseum was under construction, and my father, at the time a 14-year-old kid who lived nearby, would bicycle down to the construction site every day to watch the fascinating process of erecting such a large, intricately shaped structure.

While watching, he also took cigarettes he was offered by the construction workers. At 14, he started an addiction that lasted 38 years, had him up to three packs a day at some points and cost my parents many thousands of dollars. His habit yellowed the walls and linens and burned holes in the carpet and furniture.

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At 52, my dad succeeded in quitting and thought he had won. But not too many years later began his fight with emphysema, COPD and recurrent pneumonia. That culminated in eight months of treatment for late-stage 3 lung cancer, four months of struggling mightily to breathe, even on supplemental oxygen, and an eventual death at the relatively young age of 60. He had won the battle but lost the war.

For many years I’ve struggled with my thoughts on laws surrounding tobacco use. I believe in personal responsibility and liberty, and I don’t like the idea of a nanny state. So some part of me wants to say that if you’re 18 and considered a legal adult, and you can vote and sign up for the military, you should be able to buy tobacco products if you want.

But the facts show that too many 18-year-olds do not fully grasp the dangers of using these products, and even worse, they are buying these products for people even younger than themselves. Any increase in the age restriction helps curb use not only in that age group but also in the younger groups they would be illegally buying for, and any reduction in use, especially among the younger set, is a good thing. Statistics on lung cancer show that the younger a person started smoking, the more likely they are to develop lung cancer later in life.

Despite all of the well-known dangers of tobacco use, it took the rise of vaping, and sudden illnesses related to it, to get some traction on laws surrounding tobacco use. Nobody seemed to care about the hundreds of thousands of people dying every year in their 50s and 60s, even if they might have lived healthy lives into their 70s and 80s otherwise. It was only when a mysterious illness suddenly struck young vapers, and a handful of them died, that the federal government paid attention.

But as long as we’re now on that track, I will take it. Tobacco use is the leading cause of death in America every year, and I hope this move will start us down the path to being able to say nobody is dying from tobacco or vaping products anymore.