Louisiana bill would raise smoking age to 21

Updated: Apr. 18, 2019 at 9:02 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As co-owner of the Vaping Tiger vape shop, Jeff Weber said he’s seen how smokers try and improve their health by turning to vaping products. He said while most of his clientele aren’t teenagers, he knows what teenagers do.

“They want to be cool and do the thing you tell them not to do,” Weber said.

Weber said he’s not against raising the smoking age to 21, but he has some concerns and plans to testify in Baton Rouge against the bill.

“It doesn’t take into account people already smoking or vaping. Today they’re legally an adult and can legally buy it, tomorrow they’re not,” said Weber.

Louisiana’s bill would make it so only those 21 years and older could sell, distribute, purchase or possess tobacco products, including alternative nicotine products and vapor products.

Health educator Dr. Eric Griggs said in the medical community, there’s a lot of support behind raising the smoking age to 21. He said their main concern is about a teen’s brain development.

“The adult brain isn’t really fully formed until around 21, so the introduction of addictive substances, particularly smoking, the earlier you start the worse the effects are,” Griggs said.

He said they also worry about the influence 18-year-old smokers have on their younger peers, especially because he says a person’s chance of being diagnosed with a deadly disease increases with smoking, especially if the habit is started at a young age.

“Our rates of chronic disease, our rates of lung cancer, our rates of addictive behaviors leading to addictive behaviors, that's why we want to change legislation,” said Griggs.

This session, Louisiana representatives will discuss the bill pre-filed by Rep. Frank Hoffmann from West Monroe. Hoffman said the bill is about Louisianans’ health.

“Many people who smoke - and I happen to be an ex-smoker myself, I’m glad I quit - for many people who smoke they wish they never started, but they did,” Hoffman said.

He said when Louisianans are healthy and not smoking, the state could end up saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs.

“Obviously, we hope to make health better, and by doing that medical costs will be less a lot less,” Hoffman said.

On the national level, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also plans to file a bill to raise the smoking age to 21.

Weber knows that’s a much larger undertaking, but said if the age is raised at either the local or federal level, he will inevitably lose some business. But that’s not his main concern.

“In the vaping community, tobacco 21 is a big deal because you take a product that is not tobacco, does not contain tobacco, then you call it tobacco and you raise the age. …We’d like to see vaping removed from the tobacco category,” Weber said.

The Louisiana Committee of Health and Wellness will debate Hoffman’s bill next week, April 24.

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