Yesterday, Tuesday, January 19th, 2016, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wisely vetoed bills -- S-602/A-3254 --that would have raised the age to purchase low-risk, smoke-free vapor products and smokeless tobacco from 19 to 21 years of age.
Ostensibly Tobacco 21 bills are intended to reduce smoking rates by putting combustible cigarettes further out of reach for young people. However, this effort clearly ignores the reality that a percentage of young people will continue to experiment with, and likely progress to habitual use, the most dangerous form of tobacco. By including all forms of tobacco products as well as smoke-free vapor products, Tobacco 21 bills limit the options of young smokers attempting to quit, leaving them with only ineffective and expensive cessation products that fail 93-97% of the time.
Although Governor Christie’s veto of these bills is not a resounding endorsement of Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) as a promising public health strategy to reduce the suffering caused by smoking, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
In addition to denying adults access to legal products (including vapor products), Tobacco 21 laws mislead consumers to believe that all tobacco products are equally harmful. While raising the age to purchase cigarettes might help prevent a small number of young people from initiating a harmful smoking habit, we believe the long-term consequences are most likely harmful as they deny access to reduced-risk products for adults looking to quit or reduce their use of combustible tobacco.