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It’s official: Northam signs bill to raise Virginia’s tobacco purchasing age to 21

Posted at 11:02 AM, Feb 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-22 07:24:18-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation banning those under age 21 from purchasing tobacco and nicotine products.

The Commonwealth joins California, Oregon, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Massachusetts in raising the minimum tobacco-buying age to 21.

The Virginia House of Delegates passed HB2748 earlier this month in a 62-32 vote. The legislation aims to address the epidemic of teenage vaping and end teen access to tobacco products

The Senate passed the bill with a vote of 32-7 on Wednesday, February 13.

“The Surgeon General has characterized teenage vaping as an ‘epidemic,’ with one-out-of-five high school seniors using these products,” said Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights). “By raising the minimum age for purchase to 21, this will have a positive effect on our schools by lessening the chances of teenagers obtaining vaping products from friends and classmates who are already 18.”

Even though teenage use of traditional tobacco products is at an all-time low, self-reported teenage use of vaping doubled last year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Vaping has increased nearly 80 percent among high schoolers and 50 percent among middle schoolers since 2017, according to data released last year by the FDA in conjunction with the CDC.

“Raising the legal age for tobacco purchases to 21 is a common-sense way to address this escalating public health concern,” said Delegate Christopher Stolle, M.D. (R-Virginia Beach), who is the patron of House Bill 2748.  “The rapid growth of the number of teenagers vaping, at a time when the use of traditional tobacco is at an all-time low, should set off alarms for every parent.  This legislation will help to reverse that trend and I thank my colleagues for their support.”

While the federal tobacco purchasing age remains 18, Altria has signaled their support to raise it.

“Tobacco harm reduction for adults cannot succeed without effective measures to reduce underage use of all tobacco products,”  spokesman David Sutton said. “The best approach to achieving this goal is simple: Raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21.”

A spokesperson from JUUL labs signaled the company's support of the law, writing, "We applaud the Commonwealth of Virginia for raising the purchasing age for all tobacco products, including vapor products, to 21 and we hope more lawmakers follow their example at all levels of government across the country. We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated."