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Virginia lawmakers work to raise smoking age to 21 – that includes vape

Posted at 11:20 PM, Jan 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-18 08:26:35-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Lawmakers in both the Virginia House of Delegates and the state Senate are considering bills to ban the sale of tobacco and vape products to anyone under 21 years old. HB 2748 and SB 1727 would increase the minimum age for purchasing the products from 18 to 21.

While making plans while passing around a vape Thursday night, 18-year-old Martin Tamula explained why he started vaping in high school.

"I used to smoke, so that's the only reason I kinda still vape," Tamula said.

He's now trying to quit.

Tamula called his habit "nasty," so he supports the bills that would ban the sale of tobacco products, including vapor products, to Virginians under the age of 21.

"It's a good way to get teens to not choose an unhealthy thing," Tamula said.

House Speaker Kirk Cox said the issue has been on his radar for a while.

"You have 20 percent of [high school] seniors now that vape, you have six percent of eighth graders," Cox, a former teacher, said. "Most seniors in high school, and I taught seniors forever, turn 18, 80 percent of them, before they graduate. A lot of them were buying it and selling it to kids in school, giving it to kids in school."

Cox said the legislation came together just recently and with the support of Richmond-based tobacco giant Altria.

"I've talked to Altria and they have been very positive on supporting the legislation, I think it's probably reached that point," Cox said.

Some teen vapers remained skeptical.

"I don't really think it's going to change much, because if you look at the liquor you have to be 21 to purchase that and plenty of underage kids still get that," Evan Felix, a 19-year-old VCU freshman, said.

When asked about the legislation, Altria told CBS 6 News they fully support the legislature acting to raise the minimum age, and believe this will address the main way teens get tobacco products from those who are 18.

"We agree that the current trends in underage e-vapor use must be promptly addressed," an Altria statement read. "While tobacco use among persons under 18 is at historic lows, underage e-vapor use has increased alarmingly and FDA has characterized this trend as an epidemic. Tobacco harm reduction for adults cannot succeed without effective measures to reduce underage use of all tobacco products. The best approach to achieving this goal is simple: raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21. We fully support the Virginia legislature acting now to raise the minimum age. Taking this important step will address the main way underage youth gain access to tobacco products today – from friends who are of legal age."