Three senators advanced a bill Wednesday that would raise Iowa’s minimum age for buying tobacco products and nicotine pods from 18 to 21.
Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, said his proposal is part of a national trend of states taking that step.
“I’ve been hearing more and more from parents and teachers about kids in high school who are using particularly vape products, and that it’s becoming an epidemic,” Schneider said. “Statistics have been cited to show the use of vape products among high school students has increased significantly just within the past year.”
It would only apply to people who turn 18 after January 1, 2020.
A major tobacco company and a popular maker of vape products expressed support for the change.
Jeff Boeyink is a lobbyist for Altria, one of the world’s biggest tobacco companies.
“Youth access to tobacco products primarily comes from their social access and their friends, who happen to be of age, but they are not,” Boeyink said. “Moving from 18 to 21 removes most of this access out of the high school area, which is what we’re trying to target here.”
A representative from JUUL Labs, which makes nicotine pods that are popular among teens, agreed this would help reduce youth access to their products.
But several vape shop owners expressed opposition to the bill.
Sarah Linden owns seven vape stores in Iowa and Nebraska, and she said prohibiting high-nicotine vape pods would be more helpful than changing the minimum purchasing age.
“Instead of restricting access, get rid of the appeal,” Linden said. “Teens want to vape because of the nicotine content. They get away with it because of the concealability. Get rid of the concealability.”
Lobbyists for the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association are opposed to the bill because they say it doesn’t go far enough to prevent addiction and youth access to nicotine products.
Danielle Oswald-Thole, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society, said lawmakers should change the definition of tobacco products to include electronic smoking devices, so that all tobacco and nicotine products would be regulated and taxed in the same way.
“Fixing this loophole in the law would strengthen the bill and, we believe, would also ensure that new products that come on the market would be subject to tobacco control laws,” Oswald-Thole. “The bottom line is we have a responsibility to our kids, and we have an opportunity in this bill to fix a loophole that’s contributing the problem.”
These groups also urged lawmakers to remove the exemption that would allow members of the military to purchase tobacco products starting at age 18.