In late January, a group of more than 25 organizations from across Tennessee announced their support for legislation that seeks to prevent the next generation of nicotine addicts in the state.
The bill (SB2079/HB2114), sponsored by State Senator Shane Reeves and State Representative Robin Smith, intends to:
- Bring state law into compliance with federal law setting the purchase age for tobacco and cigarettes at 21;
- Strengthen enforcement of the purchase age law by creating a license for retailers to sell tobacco products;
- Move fines for non-compliance from the consumer to the retailer; and
- Tax vape cartridges at $0.62, the same rate as a pack of cigarettes.
"I am pleased that our federal Congressional leadership has made the critically-important move to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarette products from 18 to 21," said NashvilleHealth Founder and Board Chair Sen. Bill Frist, MD. "Now, I encourage our state's leaders to take the necessary steps to smartly implement this federal law and protect Tennessee's youth."
According to a 2019 statewide poll, nearly 80 percent of Tennessee voters said they are concerned about vaping and the use of e-cigarettes among young people in the state. More than 60 percent of Tennesseans support increasing the minimum age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21, and 86 percent believe vaping products and e-cigarettes should be included.
Sen. Shane Reeves
"Tennessee is currently ranked 43rd in life expectancy with a very high presence of heart disease, COPD, cancer and stroke compared to other states," said Sen. Shane Reeves, PharmD (R-14). "Increasing the purchase age to 21 will have a dramatic impact on those disease states over the next couple of decades."
Nicotine addiction directly impacts state spending as TennCare reports expenditures of nearly $150 million in 2018 for members' tobacco-related illness. This cost represents $147 million for members 21 years and older and $1.7 million for members under age 21.
Rep. Robin Smith
A former critical care and transplant nurse, Rep. Robin Smith (R-26) said, "The very concentrated forms of nicotine available via electronic cigarettes are quickly ensnaring teens and young adults. This bill works to establish an enforcement mechanism of the federal law that protects against addictions."
Nearly 95 percent of adults who smoke began before the age of 21. In Tennessee, teen use of e-cigarettes has doubled in the past two years, and more than 20 percent of high school students report smoking cigarettes or cigars or using smokeless tobacco or electronic vapor products in the last 30 days.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco, e-cigarette and vape products, can harm adolescent brain development, specifically the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control. Using nicotine in adolescence may also increase risk for future addiction to other drugs.
Currently in Tennessee, e-cigarette and vape products are not taxed, while traditional tobacco products are - cigarettes at 62 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes and all other tobacco products at 6.6% of the wholesale price. Tennessee ranks 43rd lowest in the nation for its 62 cents per pack tax. Twenty-one other states currently tax e-cigarette and vape products.
Organizations Supporting the Reeves Smith Legislation:
- American Heart Association
- BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
- Boys & Girls Clubs Tennessee Alliance
- Children's Hospital Alliance of Tennessee
- Coalition for Better Health
- Delta Dental
- March of Dimes
- Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee
- Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce
- Saint Thomas Health
- State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE)
- Tennessee Academy of Family Physicians
- Tennessee Afterschool Network
- Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Tennessee Charitable Care Network
- Tennessee Dental Association
- Tennessee Hospital Association
- Tennessee Medical Association
- Tennessee Pharmacists Association
- Tennessee Primary Care Association
- Tennessee's Public and Teaching Hospitals
- Tennessee Oncology Practice Society
- Tennessee Section of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Tobacco-Free Chattanooga
- United Ways of Tennessee
- Vanderbilt University Medical Center