How New Tobacco Laws Affect Your Teen

Roche, Alexandra

By Dr. Alexandra Roche, CHOC pediatrician

Under recent legislation, California has raised the age of legal sale and use of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years of age, effective June 9 (with an exemption for military personnel). Other important changes to the current laws include aligning e-cigarette location use with that of regular cigarettes: schools K-12, restaurants, hospitals and work-places must be completely tobacco-free, and that includes e-cigarettes.

Already, California has some of the strictest tobacco regulations in the country, and one of the lowest rates of tobacco use (13 percent) among adults. However, nationwide over 40 million people smoke regularly, and tobacco accounts for one in five deaths every year. Nine out of 10 smokers started smoking before the age of 18. This is a crucial time for adolescent brain development, and the adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to the addictive effects of nicotine. Every day, our teens are bombarded with advertisements highlighting the ‘cool’ factor of e-cigs and vaping; these images can easily be found in magazines, on the internet, on billboards, and in movies.

While traditional cigarette use by teens has decreased – a drop from 4.5 percent to 2.3 percent between 2011 and 2015- , statistics on e-cigarette use are quite sobering. In the same time period, e-cigarette use among teens jumped from 1.5 percent to 16 percent! Even more unsettling, 5.3 percent of middle schoolers are using e-cigarettes on a regular basis. Adolescents and pre-teens are easily persuaded by catchy advertising; with e-cigarette devices sold in a variety of rainbow colors and intriguing flavors such as gummy bear, juicy peach, and chocolate, it is easy to see why teens might be interested in these products, but the long term health effects can be devastating. While the new California regulations do not directly tackle advertising, they take a tremendous leap forward in limiting the access of these products to our youth.

Parents can also help their children make smart choices by modeling good behavior. If you smoke yourself, consider quitting. If you are using e-cigarettes as a way to cut back on your personal tobacco use, be sure to let your children know the harmful effects of nicotine and why you are trying to quit. Limit the use of these products when with your children, and be sure to store the liquids far away from young children’s inquisitive hands! You can seek help for yourself, or your child or teen, by speaking with your physician or calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

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