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Rise in teen vaping fueling charge to raise smoking age to 21

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Between 2017 and 2018, e-cigarette use among middle school students rose 48%, and for high schoolers, that number surged 78%, according to the FDA.

The stats are alarming schools and lawmakers here in Florida, and the concern is fueling momentum for legislation that would raise the age to purchase tobacco products to 21.

A troubling 3.05 million American high school students using e-cigarettes in 2018. Andrea Messina, with the Florida School Boards Association, said policing vaping on campuses is taking a toll on administrators.

“There's been a number of suspensions related to it,” Messina said. “Nicotine on campus when we've got tobacco free zones creates discipline problems.”

While e-cigarettes are often marketed as a safe alternative to tradional tobacco products, some studies have linked them to seizures in yong people. It has Florida Sen. Bill Montford (D - Marianna) taking notice.

“It’s time for us to step up,” Montford said. “It comes down to a matter of, really, a matter of life and death for these young people.”

Legislation that would raise the age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21 is gaining momentum in 2019.

Mark Landreth, with the American Heart Association said raising the age will make it harder for kids to access the products.

“If you don't start the tobacco habit or the electronic cigarette habit by age 21, you're 90% less likely to start it,” Landreth said.

The Tobacco 21 Act is moving quickly through the Florida Senate. It has not been scheduled for a hearing in the House.

Similar legislation around the country has been picking up speed. Since the start of session in March, laws to raise the smoking age to 21 have passed in Washington and Illinois. 

Florida would be the 11th state to raise the smoking age, if the legislation passes

Health advocates and education leaders say in addition to raising the age to purchase e-cigarettes, a higher emphasis needs to be put on educating young people about vaping’s negative health effects.