In most states, underage vaping isn’t considered a crime. Therefore, appropriate vaping age technically doesn’t exist. However, at what age a vape can legally be purchased is a whole different story!
Typically, the laws state that selling vaping supplies to minors is illegal – unlike the act of vaping itself. Even in a few cases where possession or usage by a minor is considered illegal, it’s not taken very seriously, more like a traffic ticket or other minor civil infraction. In general, the legal vaping age matches the legal smoking age. However, the consequences of breaking these laws usually hit the seller the most, not the underage user. In other words, although illegal, vaping under 18 is highly unlikely to get the offender in jail or incur a heavy fine for the vaper.
What does the federal law say?
From August 8, 2016, the minimum age of 18 is required to legally purchase vaping supplies in accordance with the FDA’s deeming regulations. In fact, this was one of the main points for the regulations to come along, together with tobacco smoking. However, whilst stricter tobacco restrictions were in place even before then, vaping suppliers enjoyed the “grey territory”, especially online, selling to kids regularly and unapologetically.
Interestingly, even before the deeming rule, 48 states already had legal restrictions in place. In fact, only Pennsylvania and Michigan didn’t have any vaping regulations for minors.
The legal age is different everywhere
The federal law, however, doesn’t apply to all states – and therefore, the minimum age of 18 isn’t necessarily a thing also. In contrast, some states have much more restrictive vaping laws.
In Alabama, Alaska, and Utah, one must be at least 19 to purchase vapes. An even higher age of 21 applies to California, Hawaii, Maine, and Oregon. New Jersey was a 19-zone for a while, but on November 1, 2017, the legal vaping age was changed to 21.
It gets even more complicated considering there are separate laws in smaller municipalities and cities that ban vaping under the age of 21 altogether. This trend is primarily reinforced by a curious organisation called Tobacco 21.
What’s the deal with Tobacco 21?
Also known as T21, Tobacco 21 is a popular movement that gained traction in the last few years, appealing to not just the states, but also smaller jurisdictions and leading to vaping restrictions elevated to 21 years in many cities.
T21 shares a connection with the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, that seems to be a project of a single man named Rob Crane. Crane, who is also a medical professor at Ohio State University, created Tobacco 21 and nurtured it to success, to the point where many tobacco control and corporate health groups started promoting the initiative rather heavily.
Dr. Crane openly hates vaping and calls it “a gateway to adult smoking”. As a result, not only T21 is against smoking, but it also promotes a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to low-risk nicotine products, often twisting the facts to get the message across. According to the Tobacco 21 website, “e-cigarettes should be subject to the same sales and marketing restrictions as traditional cigarettes, but in most states proper regulation has lagged well behind combustible cigarettes.
Recently the FDA has begun the slow process of restricting e-cigarette sales to those over 18 [which is not actually true – the age has been 18 for more than 12 months – Authors.] but they have made no move to reduce marketing to kids, limit youthful flavouring, or monitor online sales.”
The flaw with this is obvious: many people under 21 smoke cigarettes already and would therefore benefit immensely from access to low-risk quality vaping supplies. As much as nicotine control bodies want everyone under 21 to just say no to nicotine, this is simply unrealistic. Lots of teenagers and young adults are moderate to heavy smokers – and the longer they put off quitting, the more unnecessarily difficult it becomes.
But what about zero-nicotine e-liquid?
A sensible approach would be to loosen the regulations around e-liquids with zero nicotine content – however, unfortunately, the law doesn’t make a distinction here, classifying it as vaping supplies.
This is because according to the jurisdiction-controlling law that communicates with the FDA (also known as the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act), “tobacco products” are anything that is “made or derived from tobacco”, as well as “components and parts”.
As such, if the zero-nicotine liquid can be used as a “tobacco product” additive, it remains a tobacco product also. Reality-bending? Perhaps. Oh well, life isn’t fair.