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San Antonio's "Tobacco 21" Law Is Part of A Growing Movement to Regulate E-Cigarettes

"There's a trend happening across the country right now."

Teens in San Antonio might find it hard to re-up their supply of JUUL pods following an ordinance that bans the sale of all tobacco products for anyone under 21. San Antonio is the first city in Texas to enact stricter regulations on tobacco. It joins a growing list of cities taking similar stands amidst the rise of e-cigarettes because federal laws just aren’t cutting it.

The actual text of San Antonio’s ordinance, called “Tobacco 21,” makes it clear that the rise of e-cigarettes played a large role in pushing the legislation forward. There’s an entire section, in all capital, bolded letters specifically outlining a warning sign that will soon go up on every corner store in San Antonio:

San Antonio is really cracking down on e-cigarettes 

In September, U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb released a statement calling e-cigarettes “an epidemic.” The FDA also gave major manufacturers like JUUL and Blu a 60-day deadline to show that they’re trying to be less appealing to teens. Although the clock is still ticking on those 60 days, Adam Leventhal, Ph.D., a professor of preventative medicine at the University of Southern California says that San Antonio’s stricter tobacco policy is probably a smart move.

“If we had initiated these policies decades ago, we probably could have saved hundreds of thousands if not millions of teens who go exposed to cigarettes at an early age,” Leventhal tells Inverse. “Now with the greater diversity of products on the market including e-cigarettes and vaping devices, the Tobacco 21 policies that include e-cigarettes within them are addressing a product that’s highly popular amongst the youth population.”

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San Antonio’s Tobacco 21 ordinance comes in the wake of other municipality-led movements raising the tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21. In 2016, Hawaii was the first to enact a state-wide law, and was soon followed by California. Maine and Oregon hopped on board this summer, and Massachusetts’ policy will take effect this December.

The FDA's newest anti-vaping ad 

“There’s a trend that’s spreading across the country right now,” Leventhal says. “Here in California we did it and Hawaii did it as well, but it begins with cities doing it. So it’s great to see a major metropolitan area like San Antonio moving ahead with Tobacco 21.”

But outside of those states, this movement is largely led by local governments. Sometimes even if a major metropolitan area adopts a tobacco 21 policy state laws regarding tobacco sales remain unchanged. This is the case in New York City, where local laws prohibit the sale of tobacco products to those under 21, while state laws still list the legal age as 18. But state laws do allow for local governments to raise the age if they want to.

Leventhal adds that researchers are still working on collecting data when it comes to encapsulating the amounts of teens who use e-cigarettes, and how interventions like Tobacco 21 will play out over the most recent months. He notes in his article that data from the U.S. Surgeon General showed a decline in the use of e-cigarettes among teens between 2015 and 2016 (down from 16 percent to 11 percent nationwide), but Gottlieb’s recent statements have a different tone.

“I’m interested to see if data from 2018 show an increase in use, which is what commissioner Gottlieb has been alluding to,” he adds. That’s something that would perk up our concern. Hopefully if we talk again 14 months from now, we’ll have some really clear data.”

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