Business, Health

Baltimore County increases smoking age to 21 to align with state law

TOWSON, MD—The Baltimore County Council voted on Tuesday to approve County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s proposal to increase the legal age for tobacco product sales in Baltimore County from 18 to 21 years of age and to expand the law to include all electronic smoking devices (ESD), component parts and accessories, otherwise known as vaping products.

While Maryland recently raised age of sale for tobacco products, including vaping products, to twenty-one, legislation was necessary to empower the Baltimore County Department of Health (DOH) to enforce the new requirements. Baltimore County is the first major jurisdiction to pass this proposal.

“Youth tobacco use is a public health crisis and we must do everything we can to help protect the health and safety of Baltimore County’s young people,” said County Executive Olszewski. “This new law will empower Baltimore County to take action now to help prevent young people from the harmful effects of smoking.”

Since 2015, the Baltimore County Department of Health has overseen the Tobacco Enforcement Program, which ensures that retailers do not sell tobacco products to underage persons by conducting compliance checks of the county’s tobacco licensees and by issuing citations to outlets that sell to underage youth.

In Fiscal Year 2019, more than 3,000 checks were conducted at Baltimore County retail outlets.

The Tobacco Enforcement Program has been successful in reducing the rate of tobacco sales to youth under eighteen in Baltimore County. In just four years of operation, the retailer violation rate decreased from 54.7 percent in Fiscal Year 2015 to 0 percent in Fiscal Year 2019.

Continued enforcement, paired with the new increased legal age and inclusion of vaping products during compliance checks, will make it more difficult for youth and young adults to purchase these products.

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“Smoking and vaping equals death,” said Gregory Wm. Branch, M.D., MBA, CPE, FACP, Health Officer and Director, Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services. “I am so glad that the Council approved the increase from age eighteen to twenty-one. Many lives will be saved.”

National data show that approximately ninety-five percent of adult smokers begin smoking before the age of twenty-one. The Surgeon General has stated that vaping among underage youth is an epidemic. Vaping is now the most popular form of tobacco use among youth.

The percentage of Baltimore County high school students who use any tobacco or vaping product is about twenty-four percent. The percentage of high school students who have ever used a vaping product is nearly forty percent. Over fifty-two percent of Baltimore County high school students eighteen or older have used a vaping product.

In addition, hundreds of vaping-associated lung illnesses have been reported throughout the country.

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