One of the most common issues I hear about from parents and teachers is that tobacco and vape products are prevalent in area high schools. This week, I introduced legislation (SF 607) that will help give teens time and space to make responsible choices about the role of tobacco and vape products in their lives.

Teen tobacco use is a problem in communities throughout the state. I have heard from people throughout my district who are concerned about the use of tobacco, e-cigarettes and vape products by teens. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 17,000 high school students in Iowa smoke and nearly ten percent use e-cigarettes. Their data indicate that approximately 55,000 Iowa kids under 18 who are alive today will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.

While we have seen a decline in teen smoking in recent years, vaping and e-cigarettes seem to have taken its place. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Surgeon General, there was a 900% increase in the use of vape and e-cigarettes from 2011 to 2015. I often hear from parents and teachers from all over the state who are concerned about the rapid increase in teen vaping in Iowa. It’s time we do something about this problem.

My bill will increase the legal age to buy tobacco and vape products from 18 to 21 years old. It will allow those who are 18 on the bill’s effective date to continue to buy the products, but those under 18 will have to wait until they are 21. It is critically important that teenagers get the opportunity to grow up to a point where they can make responsible choices about whether to use tobacco and vape products. My goal is to make it more difficult for teens to get their hands on these products, while respecting people who have already reached the smoking age.

This bill also creates an exception to the age increase for those serving in the military. I am sensitive to the argument that those who fight for our freedoms overseas should have the opportunity to have a cigarette without breaking the law. I understand this sentiment and that’s why I decided to include this exemption.

My goal with this legislation is to join a conversation that is already happening around the country that will likely result in every state increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco and vape products. So far, seven states and the District of Columbia have increased their tobacco age to 21. More than 20 states are considering similar legislation and I expect the number of states that increase their tobacco age will go up by July 1. While I am not sure this bill will pass right away, I think it is important for my colleagues in the Senate and House to consider whether it makes sense for Iowa to join this movement.