“From my own experience and from what I know, most people who are underage just talk to people who are 18 or over 18 and they will usually hook you up with whatever you want,” says one CHS sophomore, who prefers to remain anonymous, regarding the ease of obtaining various tobacco products. “If it’s not your friends, there’s a lot of people who will do it for you if you just pay them extra.”
Indeed, for most CHS students under 18, accessing myriad tobacco-related products that circulate the country is only a phone call to an upperclassmen or an adult away.
However, the simplicity that has traditionally accompanied the process of acquiring tobacco products as a minor could be challenged in Senate Bill 7, a recent measure approved by the California state Legislature on March 10, which plans to raise the minimum legal age of smoking from 18 to 21.
The legislation is intended to accomplish much more than simply abating the use of cigarettes among minors. Along with signing Senate Bill 7, the California state Legislature passed Senate Bill 5, which classifies e-cigarettes as tobacco products, thus subjecting them to the same age restrictions as tobacco products.
It’s easy to see why legislators are diverting their attention to cracking down on e-cigarette use among minors. The Centers for Disease Control reports that, according to the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey, current e-cigarette use among high school students increased from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014, rising from approximately 660,000 to 2 million students.
The students of CHS appear to be no exception to this trend.
“For me, blunt wraps are the main product I buy, but in our grade, a lot of people vape,” says the same sophomore, referring to use of e-cigarettes.
The sophomore goes on to note that most minors can simply go to local smoke shops to buy flavored E-Liquid and accessories for their hookah pens since some employees at smoke shops will sell to consumers even if they are not 18.
Despite the fact that the new legislation may not serve as a panacea for the widespread problem of underage tobacco use, it’s hard to argue that the bills were not created out of concern for the well-being of present and future generations.
“We’re well aware that smoking is harmful to lungs, but it’s the addictive qualities of nicotine that to me is the most dangerous part of [tobacco-related products],” CHS Health teacher Matt Borek says. “For underage people, the front part of their brain is still developing—the decision-making portion—which leaves them at greater risk for addiction.”
Borek, however, is more concerned with the fact that we really don’t know the long-term effects of vaping.
“If you had to choose between vaping and smoking, it’s probably better to vape because you’re not getting the carcinogens from burning tobacco leaves, but you’re also heating up some synthetic substance to a certain temperature that creates a vapor, with no regulation of what those substances are.”
Whether it’s vaping or smoking, targeting underage use of tobacco products is particularly important in the scheme of stemming tobacco use.
The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health determined that 90 percent of adult smokers begin while in their teens or earlier, and two-thirds become regular, daily smokers before they reach the age of 19.
Though the anti-tobacco legislation still awaits advancement to the desk of California Gov. Jerry Brown, where it is expected to be signed into law, there has been an unsurprising amount of criticism and debate regarding the effectiveness of the measures enacted by the legislation.
“For me personally, I don’t care at all because I am 21 according to my fake [ID], so I can just buy dip or vaping stuff myself anyways,” explains a CHS senior who prefers to remain anonymous.
Even considering the legislation’s good intentions, Borek has little hope in its ability to enact realistic change.
“Just like we have high underage drinking rates, you’re still going to have people smoking at young ages,” he says. “Raising it to 21 might make it harder for some of those fringe kids, but I still see underage people being able to get pretty much whatever they need.”
Senate Bill 7 does not call for members of society to be grandfathered in, instead opting to immediately enforce age requirements for purchasing tobacco products among all citizens under 21. The only members of society exempt from the proposed stipulations of the bill are active members of the military.
If you find that you are currently a frequent user of tobacco products who is over 18 but under 21, you don’t have to start panicking immediately, but your days of casually walking into the gas station and buying a pack of stoges or a can of chew may be coming to an end.