Business, Health

Maryland to raise minimum legal sales age to 21 for tobacco products on Oct. 1

BALTIMORE, MD—The Maryland Department of Health is reaching out to more than 4,000 randomly selected licensed tobacco retailers across the state to help them prepare for a change in the legal sales age for tobacco products.

Starting October 1, 2019, Maryland will join 17 other states and more than 485 cities and counties across the nation in increasing the minimum legal sales age to 21 for all tobacco products, including electronic smoking devices such as e-cigarettes, vapes, pod-based devices and e-liquids.

This change in the law comes as Maryland, as well as 37 other states, is dealing with an outbreak of severe lung illnesses associated with vaping. As of September 24, there were 20 such cases reported in Maryland. In addition to providing educational materials, MDH is surveying retailers to seek input on what additional resources they need to assist them with today’s rapidly changing tobacco landscape.

“We want to help tobacco retailers comply with the new law,” said MDH Secretary Robert R. Neall. “They play a critical role in creating a healthier Maryland by keeping tobacco products out of the hands of Maryland youth.”

Earlier this month, MDH launched the statewide campaign, “21 or none.” New materials including “minimum age of sale” signs – compliant with the law – and a toolkit to train staff on new procedures for checking ID are available for download on MDH’s Responsible Tobacco Retailer website, www.NoTobaccoSalesToMinors.com.

Retailers selected for participation in the survey were recently sent letters and reminder postcards with a web address to complete the short online questionnaire. Responses are anonymous and more than 200 retailers have already participated to date. The survey will close Sept. 30 and a follow-up survey is planned for spring 2020.

Nationally, from 2017 to 2018 alone, use of electronic smoking devices increased by 78 percent. Several cities and states that have implemented Tobacco 21 have shown the law is helping to reduce youth access to tobacco products. Oregon saw fewer youth and young adults starting to use tobacco products since its law took effect in 2018, and youth report it is harder to access these products.

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Approximately 865,000 Marylanders use tobacco and electronic smoking devices, most of them starting before age 21. This new law aims to protect over a quarter of a million residents between ages 18 to 20 from developing a nicotine addiction.

“We discourage youth from using all tobacco products, including electronic smoking devices,” said Dawn Berkowitz, Director of MDH’s Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control. “Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical. The human brain is developing until about 25 to 26 years old and introducing nicotine to your brain while it is still developing can have permanent negative consequences.”

The Maryland Department of Health has a website to educate people about vaping: www.TheVapeExperiment.com. To assist Marylanders wanting to quit tobacco products, MDH operates the free Maryland Tobacco Quitline (1-800-QUIT-NOW), offering confidential help 24 hours a day, seven days a week for quitting vaping and tobacco products for anyone aged 13 and older. The Quitline offers specialized services for youth ages 13 to 17. More information can be found at www.SmokingStopsHere.com.

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