Soft raindrops fall off the clear plastic roof of the A-lot smoking area. The scent of stale cigarettes and an artificial berry scent fills the air. Four strangers make small talk. As smoke and vapor leave their lips, they share a moment of relaxation in an otherwise hectic schedule.
However, due to new laws, some may soon have to find alternatives for smoking and vaping. Curtis Brinks, a student and smoker at Pierce College Puyallup, found his sense of community as a young adult by smoking when he enlisted in the Army after high school.
“I started (smoking) when I was in the military,” says Brinks. “I was 18. The way I met people was through smoking. My roommate was a smoker. We went out and met more people who smoked.”
A new law will now prohibit anyone under 21 years from buying tobacco products in the U.S. Washington state had already passed legislation in March that would increase the age to purchase tobacco products on Jan. 1, 2020 but following a vote by the U.S. Senate in late December, the age for purchasing tobacco was raised to 21 in all 50 states.
“I honestly would’ve been better off. I probably never would have started,” said Brinks. “If it (the age to purchase tobacco products) was 21, I never would have started.”
The sentiment of waiting or making it harder to purchase tobacco products is what groups like the American Lung Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have been advocating for years.
The American Lung Association’s website revealed: “‘Tobacco 21’ could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including reducing lung cancer deaths by 50,000.”
Though the federal legislation raised the age to purchase tobacco products in the U.S., Washington state lawmakers are trying to push the law by trying to ban flavored vapor products permanently by the end of 2020, although said products are under a 120-day ban that will end in early February. On the Puyallup campus, some smokers and non-smokers agree that the ban will keep the products out of the hands of minors, though they are skeptical if the law will stop current underage smoking.
“It’s not going to stop them. Just because there’s a legal age doesn’t mean they won’t have access to it,” said Dillon Von Hirschmann, a non-smoker.
Critics also argue that, much like alcohol, the age change may not stop those who want to smoke and haven’t yet.
“It’s the same as alcohol. Young people will do whatever they want to do,” says Emily Murphy, also a non-smoker. “Maybe it would be better to find them a facilitated area where they could participate in things like smoking rather than restricting the age-limit because that probably won’t help.”
Hirschmann believed the law may be less about safety and more about padding a political resume. “It looks good on a legal standpoint,” added Hirschmann, “but on a human standpoint it will not stop anybody who’s already smoking or really want to start smoking.”
According to the American Lung Association, 94 % of adult smokers had their first cigarette before turning 21, and most (81%) before age 18. The American Lung Association reported that changing the laws should stop 18 and 19-year-olds from purchasing tobacco products for underage teens and by default decrease the dependency on nicotine and help young adults from developing a habit that could lead to diseases like lung cancer.
When asked if they would purchase cigarettes or vaping products for someone under 21, smokers and non-smokers agree that they couldn’t contribute to the habit.
“I know parents will buy alcohol and say ‘Oh! There’s alcohol in the alcohol cabinet, do it here,’ but if someone approached me and asked me at a grocery store or on the street if I would buy them cigarettes I’d have to say no,” said Hirschmann.
Whether the new law put in place will make an impact on the rate of young people smoking or make a dent in the number of lung and throat cancer patients in America will be answered in time, but for now, people under 21 will have to find alternative ways to pass time between classes.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost