Over the last decade, the world has seen a massive increase in vaping culture. Vaping has rivaled traditional cigarettes as a choice for smokers looking to quit. However, it has also attracted the attention of curious teenagers. To address this, regulators have set a legal minimum age for buying vape products similar to alcohol.
In layman’s terms, vaping regulations worldwide fall into three categories: treating it as a tobacco product, a standalone consumer product, or having no specific regulations. Many countries, like Thailand and Singapore, have even banned vapes as a whole.
Generally, the legal age for purchase typically aligns with adulthood, often set at 18 and above. In the United States, the world’s largest vaping market, the legal vaping age is now 21 whereas a few states have 18 set as the legal age to consume vapes.
What is the legal age for purchasing vapes in the United States?
Under the guidance of tobacco controllers and an increasing number of concerned parents, the US Congress enacted the federal Tobacco 21 or T21 law in December 2019. This law took immediate effect to tackle the then vaping popularity. While geared towards tobacco products, the primary aim was to address the issue of teenage vaping.
This legislation introduced a new provision into the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, making it illegal for any retailer to sell a tobacco product to anyone under the age of 21. It also requires each state to execute this age limit, even if the state has not enacted its own Tobacco 21 law.
This federal law does not establish penalties for the purchase, use, or possession of tobacco products by individuals under 21 (often referred to as “PUP laws”). Instead, it imposes fines solely on retailers who sell these products to underage customers. Reputed retailers refrain from selling vapes to individuals under 21.
Furthermore, the federal law supersedes existing local laws that previously granted exemptions to specific groups, such as active-duty military members, as it contains no such exceptions.
The Tobacco 21 law banned the sale of vapor products to individuals under 18 by categorizing them as tobacco products. This move was in response to calls from tobacco control advocates to set a minimum age for purchasing vapes. However, it’s worth noting that by the time the federal agency acted, 48 states had already established their own age restrictions.
Even before the federal age restriction took effect in May 2016, tobacco control groups were pushing for higher age limits. New York City was the first to implement a Tobacco 21 law in 2014, followed by Hawaii in 2016 and California later that year. By the time Congress passed the federal law, 19 states and over 500 cities and counties had already imposed T-21 restrictions.
Supporters of increasing the legal age contended that limiting the interaction between young individuals would reduce teenagers’ access. It’s worth noting that many high school seniors, at the age of 18, can legally obtain these products and sometimes distribute or sell them to younger peers. However, the number of high school students with 21-year-old friends is quite rare.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act initially limited the FDA from raising the legal tobacco purchase age beyond 18. Anti-smoking groups then focused on convincing cities and states to establish their own age limits.
Tobacco 21 advocated for a standard age of 21 for all tobacco and nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, with no exceptions. The clear aim is to eventually remove these products from the market as a whole.
The 2018-19 vaping crisis, centered around JUUL pod vapes and youth usage, prompted more efforts to ban vapor sales to minors. This resulted in T-21 proposals in numerous states during the 2019 legislative session. Eventually, Congress passed Tobacco 21 in December 2019 with minimal opposition.
Legal Age For Purchasing Zero-Nicotine Products
According to the FDA’s Deeming Rule, e-cigarettes and e-liquids are categorized as tobacco products or components of tobacco products. This classification extends to components and parts that can be used to modify the performance of a “finished product”. This subjected vapes and vape kits to tobacco product regulations.
Surprisingly, this means that zero-nicotine e-liquids are regulated in the same manner as long as they can be used with a product, such as a mod or atomizer. However, there is a loophole, Such devices can also accommodate e-juice with nicotine. Consequently, it is against the law for a retailer to sell zero-nicotine e-liquid to individuals under the age of 21.
Minimum Vaping Age Worldwide
Except for countries with complete vape bans and those lacking vaping regulations, most nations typically determine the minimum age for purchasing vapor products, along with other adult products, based on the legal age of adulthood.
While some countries have a nationally defined legal age, individual states or provinces may have the authority to establish higher age limits. For instance, Canada imposes a national minimum age of 18, but numerous provinces and territories have set the age for purchasing vaping products at 19.
In Australia, the sale of nicotine-containing consumer products (excluding cigarettes) is prohibited without a doctor’s prescription. Whereas, non-nicotine vapes are permitted, and the age for purchase varies from one state to another.
Teenage vaping is a pressing issue that requires our focus to prevent it from becoming a major problem for both young people and the vaping industry. It’s important to understand the risks of vaping and the legal vaping age.
Parents should proactively educate their kids about these issues and set a good example to deter underage vaping. These actions can help decrease the number of teens starting vaping while still assisting adults in switching from smoking to vaping as a way to quit cigarettes. If we don’t take a step forward our future generations may be taking two steps back!