W.Va. bill would raise minimum age for tobacco purchases to 21

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Lawmakers in both Virginia and West Virginia are considering bills that would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21.

Photo: Vaping360 / CC BY 2.0

A bill moving through the West Virginia Legislature would raise the state's minimum legal age for buying tobacco products to make it the same as alcohol.

The Senate health and human resources committee on Tuesday sent the bill to the Senate judiciary committee. The bill covers all tobacco and vaping products. A similar bill is pending in the House health and human resources committee.

A bill to do the same died last year in a Senate committee.

In Virginia, the House of Delegates voted earlier this month to pass a bill that would raise the age to 21 on a 67-31 vote.

The bill, which has the support of Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox, includes “nicotine vapor products, and alternative nicotine products, and the minimum age for persons such products can be sold to.”

It was proposed after the U.S. Surgeon General characterized teenage vaping as an epidemic.

“By raising the minimum age for purchase to 21, this will have a positive effect on our schools by lessening the chances of teenagers obtaining vaping products from friends and classmates who are already 18," said Cox.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia has among the highest youth smoking rates in the nation.

The nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says six states and at least 430 localities have raised the tobacco purchase age limit to 21. Similar bills are pending before lawmakers in several other states, including Indiana and Illinois. Hawaii lawmakers are considering raising the age gradually to 100.

While teenage use of traditional tobacco products is at an all-time low, self-reported teenage use of vaping doubled last year. In 2018, over 20% of high school seniors reported vaping in the last 30 days compared to 11 percent in 2017. For 10th graders, it was 16% in 2018 compared to eight percent in 2017. For 8th graders, it was six percent in 2018 compared to three percent in 2017.