Age requirement to buy tobacco now 21 — Students express mixed feelings about new tobacco law

GSUPD does not have any specific enforcement actions planned regarding the changes in the age requirement on purchasing tobacco products. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

The new decade was off to a controversial start, as Congress passed a new law raising the age to buy tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21. Many college students began the year discussing whether or not this new development is what’s best for the community.

“The only reason why I don’t like the new law is because it takes away some of the rights I was supposed to achieve at 18,” Ariana Munoz, a freshman at Georgia State, said.

For as long as Georgia’s Generation Z can remember, the legal age to purchase many tobacco products such as cigarettes and Backwoods was 18. 

Many teens and adults waited until they were 18 to be able to purchase tobacco products and suddenly with this new legislative development, they no longer can. 

In order to regulate one tobacco product, such as cigarettes, the government has to regulate them all. 

“The new law prohibits anyone under 21 years old from buying tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes,” Joseph Spillane, chief of police for the Georgia State University Police Department, said.

This new initiative to lower the rate of teens and adults who smoke isn’t a new concept. 

Throughout the entire last decade, anti-smoking campaigns such as “The Real Cost” have been releasing commercials, both fear and fact-driven, to encourage people to quit smoking. At the same time, cigarette commercials are banned in the U.S. and have been since 1970.

The Truth Initiative is a “nonprofit health organization” whose mission is concerned with getting the overall population to stop using tobacco products. 

According to their website, the Truth Initiative researches and evaluates current health policies and issues surrounding items such as tobacco, vapes and opioids in order to figure out how to best help the communities they serve.

“Our 20 years of lifesaving work has helped drive down the youth smoking rate from 23% in 2000 to 3.7% in 2019,” the Truth Initiatives website states. “We have also prevented millions of young people from becoming smokers, including 2.5 million between 2015 and 2018 alone.”

In addition to civic and youth engagement, Truth Initiative as has facts sheets about tobacco use organized by state for those interested in learning more about why they should stop smoking. In October 2017, Truth Initiative published a press release stating their strong support behind raising the minimum legal tobacco age to 21.

“Truth Initiative is committed to creating a world where tobacco is a thing of the past and achieving a culture where youth and young adults reject tobacco,” the release states. “Because most tobacco users start before age 18, and nearly all start before 26, reducing youth access to tobacco is a key tool in accomplishing our mission.”

According to the American Lung Association, Congress included the legislation on raising the national minimum age to buy tobacco in the end of the year legislation package and it was passed by both houses in congress. 

On Dec. 20, 2019, President Donald Trump signed the bill and it took effect immediately. Gas stations, corner stores and convenience shops everywhere stopped selling tobacco to consumers under the age of 18.

“In March 2015, a report from the National Academy of Medicine revealed that ‘Tobacco 21’ could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including reducing lung cancer deaths by 50,000,” their website states.

All Georgia State students under 21 are affected by this law, even more so now that a newly built RaceTrac has made tobacco products more accessible for those who live in on-campus housing, or who are just looking to make a purchase in between classes. 

According to Spillane, if the student is under 21, they would not be allowed to purchase tobacco products by the merchant. Students could be issued a citation if they are found in possession of tobacco products, and the contraband would be seized and destroyed.

“The RaceTrac is a private business and not affiliated with Georgia State University, [so] they are required to follow the law when selling tobacco products and could be fined for selling to persons under 21,” Spillane said. “Any enforcement issues regarding underage sales would be under the jurisdiction of the Atlanta Police Department.”

Spillane says that GSUPD does not have any specific enforcement actions planned regarding the changes in the age requirement on purchasing tobacco products.

Fortunately, student aid is not linked to tobacco use or possession.

“If a student is caught breaking any law, there would be a Student Code of Conduct investigation initiated by the Dean of Students,” Spillane said. “Depending on the severity of the infraction, the student could be required to take classes, attend counseling or other sanctions deemed necessary by the Dean of Students.”

Some students have mixed feelings.

Miracle Fleming, a Georgia State freshman, believes the new law is only protecting the youth and forcing them to think longer about whether or not they want to make the decision to smoke.

Fleming personally does not smoke, so she does not disagree or agree because people should be allowed to do what they choose with their body. 

“At the same time, the new law will prohibit teens from either purchasing tobacco products for wrong reasons or for younger age ranges,” Fleming said. “In the end, it is to protect the youth even though it has come to be a huge inconvenience for many of them.”

Fleming also acknowledges that the youth of our generation always find a way to get what they want, no matter the circumstance.

“Teens have always found a way to get what they want despite the laws,” Fleming said. “There might be a slight shift, but in the end, it will be a factor of pursuing the purchase until someone gets caught.”

Anaya Woolfolk, a sophomore at Georgia State, does not agree with the new law. 

“I feel like everybody shouldn’t be punished for the actions of a few,” Woolfolk said. “I personally do not smoke tobacco, that’s not what the wraps are used for, so I shouldn’t be punished for the actions of minors wanting to smoke nicotine.”

Munoz does not smoke, but she doesn’t necessarily agree or disagree with the new law either. 

“I believe that using things such as tobacco before ages 21 to 25 is harmful to all potential growth one can achieve,” Munoz said. “In this light, the new laws will protect the future generations much more than us, as we have a new found nicotine addiction in juuls and the like.”

However, Munoz doesn’t believe it is fair for 18-year-olds to not be able to drink or smoke but are able to join the military.

“Are we even adults at 18 anymore?” Munoz asked.