Every so often, a walk past the bathrooms in a high school hallway leads to a whiff of something sweet, the sugary artificial smell of a donut or a fruit flavoring.
Ten years ago, those smells didn’t have the associations to a recently popularized electronic cigarette as it does today. Starting with the introduction of the vape to the United States in 2007, the vape cloud has only gotten bigger, despite the health risks that have been discovered.
In a unanimous vote in early November, Hillsborough County Commissioners voted to raise the legal vaping age from 18 to 21. The bill also requires that vendors have a sign posted saying it is illegal for minors to purchase electronic cigarettes or vapes.
“There are stories of people making their own liquids to put in a vape. It’s easy for things like this to occur when dealing with products people can get on the street,” said District 6 County Commissioner Kimberly Overman about her choice to vote for this bill. She explained that if someone underage is found vaping then they get a citation, which is considered a misdemeanor.
With this new law, Overman hopes that will be prevented. “The key is making sure retailers don’t sell to people who are underage,” she said.
At the Kwik Stop, at the intersection of Florida and Hanna avenues, employees must check IDs to confirm that buyers of any tobacco products are over 18. The county had not informed them about the change in law yet in mid-December or provided a sign informing customers of the legal purchase age, according to employees Mike Booz and Mohammed Qadri.
Booz recounted a young man who attends HHS coming into the Kwik Stop that day to purchase a vape. Since he was over 18, born in 2001, they were still legally allowed to sell it to him, he said. “When [the law] is implemented, we’ll know. They’ll tell us and we’ll follow it,” Booz said.
There was no sign posted about the new age limit as of Jan. 27.
Two students who used to vape to deal with stress but have since quit, and wish to remain anonymous, have opposing views on the law.
One supports the new law because by preventing access, it will prevent the culture of vapes from becoming like the culture of cigarettes. The other supports the motive to create the law but doesn’t believe it will work. “If the law makes it longer before [a kid] can legally vape, they’ll say screw it and vape anyway instead of waiting even longer,” one said.
The increase in use of vaping products could be attributed to the advertisements that began circling after 2011 saying that vaping is a safe form of smoking.
Making the problem bigger, JUUL, which is a type of vape that looks a bit like a flash drive, can easily be hidden in school. In the United States, the first factory produced 20 million cigarettes in 1861.
It wasn’t until 1912 that the first report of the link between smoking and lung cancer was published. For years, cigarettes were smoked without lawful limitations. When vapes were first produced, it was a similar case, and people were quick to accept that they were not harmful. Now, studies show the harmful effects of vaping. A 2019 study published by the American Heart Association showed that e-cigarette use is linked to stroke, heart attack, angina and heart disease.
For these reasons, Overman chose to support the bill raising the legal vaping age to 21. “Habits that are developed as a teen are hard to break later in life,” Overman said.