The new legislation act proposed by Robert Aderholt and Juan Vergas, representatives of states, aims to raise the national MLSA (minimum legal sales age) from 18 to 21 years for purchasing tobacco and tobacco-related substances.
The unexpected development was published as a press release and is taken as a direct response to FDA’s. In addition to other factions listed with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and big tobacco control groups, concern for the vaping epidemic that is supposedly overtaking the youth of the nation.
While officially introducing his SCOTT (Stopping Consumption of Tobacco by Teens) Act via the press release, Aderholt draws on the historical act of raising the legal age for drinking to 21. He went on to say how smoking belongs to the same category of risk and is even more potent for young people.
The bill, coded H.R. 2084, is referred to House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The SCOTT Act, in addition to raising the MLSA, seeks to empower FDA with a well-structured regulatory policy that would make application of strict age verification methods easier.
One of the most important aspects of the bill is the heightened regulatory methods the online vendors of vaping products are expected to follow.
According to the press release, the retailers must ask for the would-be buyer’s name, age, address and other similar information before any confirmed sale, and then run them through a third party database.
The three groups of data required by Aderholt’s statement are full name, birth date with the year and residential and shipping address.
When the product arrives at the predetermined address, after checking the information against a proper database, the package must be received by a person of 21 years of age.
This bipartisan proposal reflects much of FDA’s former commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s historical steps against the “vaping epidemic” and the industry.
In reality, from the initial press release, the current official declaration of the act from Aderholt’s office, it does seem to farther the legacy set by Gottlieb himself.
If the proposal is passed by both the Trump administration and the Republican Senate, then it’d be up to Ned Sharpless, the successor to Scott Gottlieb, to execute the legal framework.
How the Democratic House of Representatives would react is only a matter of common sense.
Not only would it be incorporated into their public health concern platform, but also very likely to be used by the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates as a complementary factor during the campaign.
So the probability of those candidates endorsing, the bill is not quite out of the picture.
As the legislative ball rolls within the political framework, the pro-vaping community, including both vapers and non-vapers, inside the Beltway are entertaining the grim possibility of a brutal battle, if not war.
The heightened age restriction is bound to draw in support from organizations that advocate strict tobacco control as well all from parents’ groups with zero tolerance policy for vaping.
As for the industry itself, tobacco and e-cigarette companies like Altria and Juul Labs respectively, along with organizations and companies who are legally bound to them through strategic investment and partnership, are also likely to support the legislation for appeasement’s sake. Naturally, the federal health regulators are a constant concern for them.
But don’t forget that Altria has spent thousands for Aderholt’s political endeavors sent in as donations.
Thanks to the Center for Responsive Politics, it was disclosed that Aderholt received exactly $27,500 from Altria during 2018’s election.
The same disclosure also records that from Altria affiliated lobbyists and political organizations, Aderholt received around $60,000 during the past three elections.
In case of Vargas, he received thousands in donation from American Optometric Association, American Medical Association, American Dental Association and similar public health groups with a known stance against vaping.
Political committees affiliated to big-time pharmaceutical companies have helped during the 2018 election by sending in hefty sums: $43,000 and $9,000 for Aderholt and Vargas respectively.
In Detail: Tobacco 21 Policy
The SCOTT Act, jointly proposed by Aderholt and Vargas, covers all combustible and oral tobacco, liquid nicotine and vapes as “tobacco products” and brings them under the regulation fold.
In my previous report to Vapor Post, I mentioned how the vaping industry, which does not exclusively rely on large tobacco companies, doesn’t support the Tobacco 21 policies.
The reason is they restrict 18 to 20 year old’s access to vapes and such, which contain a significantly lower level of nicotine compared to cigarette. This pretty much stunts the possibility of a safe transition from underage nicotine addiction.
In my previous report, the executive director of Vapor Technology Association Tony Abboud said that there is no proof to reasonably believe that imposing such age restriction in purchasing alternative “tobacco” products decreases the number of underage smoking.
He said that the current lower rate of new-adult smokers owes its credit to alternative tobacco and the consequence is a cause for celebration.
But can the policy realistically prevent underage access to e-cigarette and vaping products? Heartland Institute’s State Government Relations Manager and long-time tobacco harm reduction researcher, Lindsey Stroud doubt that.
In her email, as a response to Aderholt’s proposal, Stroud agrees that the age verification methods are well structured. But they’re also highly overestimated.
She thinks it betrays the authoritative people’s lack of understanding when it comes to young people obtaining tobacco and tobacco products.
To be honest, the vaping community and industry hardly have any problem with the enhanced verification requirements. What they don’t support is the raised age limit.
Stroud sites a statistical report by the FDA. According to it, 86% underage smokers (15 to 17 years) obtain tobacco with the help of others while 89% rely on them for e-cigarettes.
And who are these “others”? Family members, friends, and willing strangers. Stroud straight out said that it’s extremely unlikely for the policy to cause any observable exception and is just another addition to the lot of 200 other similar bills.
I think the bill should at least include a devaluation clause, ensuring states’ self-rule via power distribution to the lower strata. Otherwise, it’d be highly invasive and render any kind of state intervention futile.
We should keep in mind that enforcing such a new age restriction could hurt public health. Tobacco alternatives, whether it’s vape, e-cig or products that carry low-risk nicotine, have proven comparative health benefits.
Aderholt’s bill also seeks to codify the federal authority to control the trafficking of vapes and e-cigarettes across state lines.
SCOTT Act: The Vendor's Thoughts
To understand how regular online vendors are taking to the new proposal, I reached out for personal feedback.
Some were having a hard time believing its reality while others, like Wayne Walker of DIY OR DIE and Walker Vapor Group, believe it’s much closer to harmful than less.
In his email, Walker agrees that the verification is something downright necessary but the age restriction?
What’s the logic behind that? You can be charged and enlist to go to war but can’t inhale sweetened steam?
He wonders at the country’s well-being and thinks the industry should reconsider the amount of liberty it’s willing to surrender.
Something similar was stated by Kimberly Manor of Northern Michigan. He owns a traditional brick and mortar vape shop and has a son who enlisted at 21. But there he made friends who’re 18.
Manor wonders, should the 18-year-old ask his 21-year-old buddies to buy him a vape kit before shipping off to Afghanistan? Frankly, it doesn’t make much sense to him.
As the bill moves past legislative processes, further developments will be monitored.