As you may have heard, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., recently introduced legislation to raise the legal age of buying tobacco products to 21. McConnell explained that the increasing rate of vaping among teenagers was his main motivation and this bill comes during an important debate on the topic. What many don’t know is that this conversation started with a new e-cigarette policy issued by the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA is attempting to decrease teen smoking in its new policy by limiting which retailers can sell certain flavored e-cigarette products. Unfortunately, the FDA’s big-government approach will be ineffective and likely unsuccessful.
According to the new policy, a store must have a separate room that is only for people 18 years and older to sell flavored e-cigarettes. As you can imagine, your local convenience store won’t be building another room just to sell flavored e-cigarette products, so it will price them out of this market.
Tobacco stores and vape shops will reap the benefits of this protectionist policy. Ironically, according to a recent study, vape and tobacco shops have a worse record of selling age-restricted products to minors than convenience and grocery stores.
By pushing teens to the stores with the worst record of enforcing the laws, more teens will inevitably gain access to e-cigarettes and other tobacco products. Meanwhile, our local convenience stores, which often run on tight margins, will lose this business. As a former convenience store owner of 17 years, I can attest to the effect such a rule would have on local businesses. It cannot be denied; the e-cigarette market is booming and if local convenience and grocery stores are put at such a disadvantage, it could drive many out of business, costing hardworking people their jobs.
The FDA e-cigarette policy is atypical for President Donald Trump’s notoriously small-business-friendly administration. While we can all agree that the rise in teen smoking is a public health concern, there are many solutions to address this problem that would be more successful and fair.
For example, did you know there is no federal law or regulation against giving a minor a tobacco product? This may explain why 70 to 80 percent of minors report getting e-cigarettes from social sources, namely legal adults, not from buying them at retail locations.
Additionally, federal law established by the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act in 2009 that requires anyone who delivers tobacco products to check ID has not been updated to include e-cigarettes. This is worrisome when more than 30 percent of teens who buy e-cigarettes and other vape products buy them online.
If the PACT Act was updated to include e-cigarettes, fewer of these products would end up in the hands of teens. Thankfully, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, John Cornyn and Chris Van Hollen introduced legislation last month to do just that. The bipartisan Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act would update the PACT Act to treat online retailers and traditional retailers the same when it comes to selling e-cigarettes.
These two solutions are easily achievable through legislative action and would be far more successful at decreasing teen smoking than the FDA’s new job-killing policy.
While I am grateful that McConnell is taking the problem of teen smoking seriously, I hope he promotes solutions that will be effective. Even if the legal age to purchase tobacco increases, the underlying ways minors acquire these products also needs to be addressed.
I believe McConnell, alongside Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, can make a difference in preventing teen smoking by supporting the Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act and keeping the FDA’s current misguided approach in mind when the time comes to confirm a new commissioner.
– Hodges of Princeton is the Republican Party chairwoman in Caldwell County.