The legal age to use nicotine-based products, including e-cigarettes, is 18 in Missouri, which is too young for the use of all forms of nicotine products.

For the health of individuals and society, Missouri should raise the age to use tobacco products to 21, the same age restricion required to buy a beer.

Gov. Mike Parson could have rolled the ball in that direction last week; instead, his “big” vaping announcement amounted to a politically safe, tobacco-industry-hugging “education program.”

Regarding individual health, scienctific research shows young, developing brains are more likely to sustain damage from nicotine use than are the brains of older people:

• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Smoking and Tobacco Use” report declared, “Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s,” and

• The U.S. Surgeon General’s Office in February identified specific harms for children, and young men and women – “Nicotine exposure during adolescence impacts learning, memory and attention, and primes the brain for addiction.”

Based on scientific evidence, this state should protect developing minds by restricting the use of all tobacco products, including e-cigarattes, to 21 and older.

Information from experts at the CDC and Surgeon General’s Office addressed “developing” minds, but of equal concern are the unknown, long-term implications for the health of individuals and society in general as vaping succeeds in addicting a new generation of Americans to killer nicotine.

Vaping is a new form of intake, but nicotine remains nicotine. The CDC reported nicotine increases the risk:

• “For coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times;

• “For stroke by 2 to 4 times;

• “Of men developing lung cancer by 25 times;

• “Of women developing lung cancer by 25.7 times; and

“Smoking causes diminished overall health, increased absenteeism from work and increased health care utilization and cost.”

Nicotine use puts a strain on individual health; on families that have watched members die on beds of pain; on the health care system, with the CDC reporting smoking-related illnesses cost this country more than $300 billion annually; and on taxpayers, who pay medical bills for those who lack insurance.

“Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths annually, including 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke. For every American who dies because of smoking, at least 30 are living with a serious, smoking-related illness,” the CDC reported.

The Missouri General Assembly has been reluctant, to the point of complicity, to address nicotine addiction. Evidence is found in two facts: The state dumped 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement money into the “general fund,” rather than put that money – this year’s total comes to $655 million – into smoking cessation and health care; and the cash-strapped state could raise money by increasing the tobacco tax, but instead keeps the tax at 17 cents per pack, the lowest amount in the nation, which makes smoking in this state attractive. When averaged, Missouri’s eight border states tax cigarettes at $1.40 per pack. Neighboring Illinois’ tax is highest, at $2.98. Tennessee is lowest, at 62 cents per pack, but even the lowest amount is more than 3.5 times higher than what Missouri charges.

Given nicotine’s known health risks, especially for young people, Missouri absolutely should raise the age for using all nicotine products to 21.

While Parson and the General Assembly continue to blow kisses to tobacco interests, no one should think they will raise the age limit to buy nicotine or increase the cost. They focus on getting re-elected by catering to special interests, not on doing what is right.

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