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Lewis & Clark Public Health reacts after tobacco age raised to 21

Posted at 4:55 PM, Dec 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-30 20:23:46-05

As a new federal law takes effect, raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, public health leaders in Montana say they will be watching the effects on tobacco use.

“It’s something that’s pretty new, and it took us by surprise a little bit,” said Nate Wellington, a tobacco use prevention health educator with Lewis and Clark Public Health.

Last week, national media outlets reported the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had posted a notice on its website, saying it is now illegal for retailers to sell cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone under 21. The change was part of a package of major federal spending bills.

Wellington said Monday it’s still too early to tell what impacts the change could have on local resources for people who want to quit tobacco. In Montana, there are four separate Tobacco Quit Line services – the standard service, one for the American Indian community, one for pregnant women and new mothers and the “My Life, My Quit” program aimed at teens.

My Life, My Quit launched in the state this summer, with a dedicated line that people under 18 can call or text. Wellington said they’ve already seen growing interest in the program.

Wellington has also worked with Helena-area schools, holding presentations about the risks of youth tobacco use – particularly vaping. Health leaders have described the growing number of teenagers using vaping products as an “epidemic.”

“The emphasis is that nicotine addiction is real, and these products do contain nicotine, and that it’s unsafe for people under 18 to be using,” Wellington said. “With this whole vaping epidemic and stuff like that, we’ve seen that a lot of youth do want to quit, and that’s really awesome.”

Wellington said raising the tobacco age to 21 could help limit access in schools, since teens’ 18-year-old classmates had been able to buy vaping and tobacco products legally.

The state of Montana is currently enforcing an emergency ban on the sale of flavored vaping products, which leaders say is aimed at reducing youth use.

Anyone who is interested in quitting tobacco can call the Montana Quit Line at 1 (800) 784-8669. The number for the My Life, My Quit program is 1 (855) 891-9989, and teens can call or send a text.