Ohio’s ‘Tobacco 21’ Law in Effect — Will This Decrease the Number of Vape Users in Ohio?

Maddy Johns, junior criminal justice major, smokes her NJOY e-cigarette at the Youngstown State University campus core. Photo by Heather Newsome/The Jambar

By Amanda Joerndt

With the booming vaping epidemic across the country, state and local action is being taken to ensure young adults are made aware of the harmful and potentially deadly effects of vaping.

As of Oct. 15, over 1,479 cases of lung injuries involving the use of vaping or electronic cigarette products have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC found 33 deaths have been reported in over 24 states, with most deaths having a correlation with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products. 

Ohio’s “Tobacco 21” law was placed into effect on Oct. 17. The law makes it illegal for individuals under the age of 21 to purchase “cigarettes, other tobacco products, and alternative nicotine products such as e-cigarettes and vaping products,” according to the Ohio Department of Health. 

Johns hits her NJOY e-cigarette during a class break on Oct. 11. Photo by Heather Newsome/The Jambar

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in an Oct. 15 news release that research shows around 95% of adult smokers begin smoking before the age of 21.

“Increasing the age to 21 will reduce the chances of our young people starting to smoke and becoming regular smokers,” DeWine said.

According to the news release, a 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine shows raising the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21 will likely prevent tobacco use by young adults, specifically those between 15 and 17 years old. 

Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, stated in the news release that studies propose nicotine use during young adulthood can create long-term impacts on brain development. 

“Raising the sales age for tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 means that those who can legally obtain these products are less likely to be in the same social networks as high school students,” Acton said. 

Patricia Sweeney, Mahoning County health commissioner, said the law will help the state move in the right direction with the health concern, although previously passed jurisdictions on the issue will remain in place. 

“What’s interesting about the law is that it doesn’t preempt jurisdictions that already passed their own regulations that may even be more strict,” Sweeney said. “That’s going to be quite interesting to see how that plays out, but that’s really good news for the state.” 

She said the Mahoning County District Board of Health works endlessly to ensure residents are made aware of the epidemic by recently passing a resolution to make the public aware of the health epidemic across the Valley. 

“I’ve been here for almost eight years, and this is the first health-related resolution that’s been passed by the board,” Sweeney said. “It goes over the fact that we have the regulatory authority and the responsibility legally to make sure people are aware of the health threats.” 

Maddy Johns, junior criminal justice major, smokes her NJOY e-cigarette at the Youngstown State University campus core. Photo by Heather Newsome/The Jambar

According to Sweeney, a survey recorded by the Coalition for a Drug Free Mahoning County shows in 2015, 5-6% of teens and adolescents used vaping products and in 2018 the use of vaping products increased to over 30%. 

“When you take those liquids, heat them up and nebulize them, that gets into the lungs. We have no idea what damage that’s doing yet,” she said. “They do know that some of the contents are heavy metals and some are electing to use THC in these products. … That’s a part of the marijuana plant that’s addictive.”

Sweeney said neurological issues can arise if vaping products are used by individuals at an early age. 

“The younger an individual is that becomes addicted to nicotine, there is more damage done to the brain because the neuroreceptors are being formed in an adolescent,” she said. 

The CDC reported 26% of patients linked to lung-related illnesses from vaping products ranged between 25 and 34 years of age. 

Dr. Mallory Ucchino, a family medicine physician for Mercy Health St. Elizabeth Hospital, said she has not personally seen any cases regarding the illness, but the type of sickness that patients visit the hospital for have created a common trend. 

“We’re getting a lot more patients with chronic lung illnesses, obstructive pulmonary disease-like illnesses early on,” Ucchino said. “We’re definitely seeing similar [illnesses] compared to cigarette use as far as worsening asthma, COPD and difficulty breathing.” 

According to Ucchino, the outbreak has “spread like wildfire.” 

“I think so many kids are using them now, and adults are using them to try and get off cigarettes, and so I think it’s just skyrocketing at this point,” Ucchino said. 

Ucchino said St. Elizabeth Hospital will be creating public service announcements for local school districts to educate young people on the dangers of using vaping products. 

“We’re going to film short PSA videos here in the future, just trying to spread the word in local area high schools about the consequences of vaping,” Ucchino said. “Just try and educate the younger people who maybe don’t understand or don’t know exactly what could happen using these products.”

Additionally, Youngstown State University still plans to enforce the strict smoking policy on campus.

John Hyden, associate vice president of facilities maintenance, said although vaping and e-cigarette products correlate with the smoking policy, the cumulation of smoke clouds formed around campus can be a bother.

“I would think it is more of a nuisance; however, given recent news stories about serious lung illness, it could be of concern” Hyden said. 

Nate Montgomery, a senior general studies major, said vaping helped him wean off of smoking cigarettes.

Although officials have been making the consequences of vaping known, he said he still plans to vape.  

“I do think it’s risky to have all of these ‘delicious flavors’ to entice kids and young people,” Montgomery said. “As a whole, I would very much dislike any law that would limit someone’s ability to vape simply because of how beneficial it could be compared to cigarettes.”

According to Montgomery, he doesn’t have any worries for long-term illnesses while vaping.  

“I don’t have as much worry for long-term illness as if I was smoking cigarettes still,” Montgomery said. “There’s always the risk that something’s going to come out later.”