Late last summer I introduced legislation with a strong list of bi-partisan co-authors to increase the age for sale, purchase, and possession of cigarettes, nicotine and tobacco products, including vapor products, from 18 to 21. The bill has been nicknamed Tobacco 21.
As you may have heard, the federal government recently included the same law change in the federal year-end legislative package that was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, 2019. As a result, my bills are no longer necessary because the age change is now law in every state. It is the law of the land.
While the law has officially changed, the United States Food and Drug Administration, state departments of health services and other entities are working through the process to put the law into effect. They will be issuing formal guidance for retailers, law enforcement and consumers. I am not aware of a specific timeline, but I am hopeful that this guidance will be available very soon.
In the meantime, several retailers, including Kwik Trip stores throughout Wisconsin, have already decided to enforce the law. Kwik Trip added signage in their stores to announce that it will no longer sell tobacco, nicotine or vaping products to customers under 21 years of age. Wal-Mart took this step last May and stopped selling fruit-flavored e-cigarettes to all customers. I am sure there are other local retailers who have decided to make these changes before official guidance is issued, and I appreciate your efforts.
I recognize that there are two different camps when it comes to increasing the age for tobacco, nicotine and vaping products. I understand the rationale that a legal adult should be able to purchase these products when they turn 18. However, I am also extremely concerned about the proven fact that we have high school and even middle school kids accessing these products from friends and siblings. This law change may not entirely solve the problem, but it is a reasonable action to protect our kids.
Between 2017 and 2018, the use of vaping products increased by 78% for high school students and by 48% among middle school students, according to figures from the FDA. Studies have shown nearly 40% of 12th graders report using a vaping product in the past 12 months.
The vast majority of high school and middle school students obtain vaping products from social sources, such as a classmate, friend or sibling. Obtaining the products has proven far too easy for youth, in part because 80% of their classmates turn 18 before they graduate. Parents and educators across the state have passionately voiced their concerns about the prevalence of youth vaping at listening sessions and have urged lawmakers to take action.
I sincerely appreciate the federal action on this issue. This is a great example of how efforts at the state level influence federal policy. I am hopeful that we may have similar impacts with my Truth in Food Labeling legislation related to milk, dairy product and meat labeling. The FDA and United States Department of Agriculture should be enforcing laws already on our federal books and take action on this issue immediately.
I am proud to be part of real solutions. The federal action on Tobacco 21 is a solid answer to growing problems in our state and throughout our country. Many thanks to Kwik Trip, Wal-Mart and other retailers who have decided to enforce the law and to protect young people in our communities.
For more information and to connect with me, visit my website http://legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/17/marklein and subscribe to my weekly E-Update by sending an email to Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov. Do not hesitate to call 800-978-8008 if you have input, ideas or need assistance with any state-related matters.
Republican Howard Marklein, Spring Green, represents the 17th state Senate District.
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