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teens vaping in the park.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—New federal regulations make it illegal for retailers to sell any tobacco product including e-cigarettes to people under 21. Adrienne Duke, a family and child development studies specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said the new age limit reflects a national response to vaping.

“Federal law supersedes state law, meaning in Alabama, the legal age to purchase these product increases from 19 to 21,” Duke said. “People who sell to minors face fines and potential jail time.”

Vaping an Epidemic

Duke said vaping is a widespread, alarming issue affecting all families of young people. In fact, the surgeon general identified it as the number one health issue in the nation.

In 2018, reports indicated one in 10 teens had access to, or actively vaped. In 2019, those numbers have drastically increased to one in four. More than 50 vaping-related deaths have been confirmed in 27 states, while illnesses were reported in every state.

Duke, who is also an associate professor at Auburn University, said there is confusion about the FDA ban on flavored vaping products.

“There is not a ban on all flavored electronic nicotine delivery devices,” she said. “The Food and Drug Administration has not banned the sale of these products. Instead, the agency is enforcing its existing authority to regulate and authorize the manufacture, distribution and sale of flavored e-cigarettes by having them go through an application process.”

Duke said the FDA has limited flavors for cartridge-based electronic cigarettes only.

“The flavors mint, fruit and dessert flavors are currently halted for cartridge-based electronic cigarettes, but not menthol or tobacco-flavored products,” Duke said. “I want to emphasize this is only for cartridge based e-cigarettes, like JUUL. There are no restrictions on flavors for open tank electronic cigarette systems commonly found at vape shops.”

Read the complete details on FDA policies related to flavored e-cigarette products here.

Effects of Vaping

Duke added that many of the ingredients in e-cigarette vapors have long-term harmful effects on the lungs. Diacetyl, the flavoring chemical in sweet flavored e-juice, is associated with bronchiolitis obliterans (popcorn lung) and the respiratory disease, EVALI.

“Regardless of the flavors available, nicotine changes the way synapses form and can harm the parts of the brain that control attention and learning,” Duke said. “Nicotine addiction can cause mood disorders and permanent lowering of impulse control.”

Duke cautions parents should not become complacent about vaping and their children because of the increased age limit.

“Many vaping devices mimic the look of ordinary objects such as USB drives, watches, pens, remote controls, car fobs and hoodie drawstrings,” she said. “Watch out for these look-a-like products.”

More Information

Alabama Extension is dedicated to educational programs and raising awareness about the epidemic affecting young people in our nation—and especially in the state of Alabama. Contact your county Extension office to see when programs are scheduled in your area.

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