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Don’t let this story go up in smoke!

July 12, 2019

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Have you been reading the ads distributed by your news organization’s outlets lately?

You may be missing a breaking business news story by overlooking this important source if you do. Ads often mask a good story, especially if the advertisers represent an industry under fire like Juul Labs. The manufacturer of e-cigarettes has placed ads in about two dozen states and the District of Columbia promoting “T21,” the national Tobacco21 campaign launched in 1996 to raise the legal age to smoke from 18 to 21.

But Juul’s ads are a dangerous new smokescreen, say public health groups. An army of lobbyists for Juul, along with tobacco giants Reynolds American and Altria, has been working since 2013 to promote bills that weaken tougher state and local regulations. Find out what’s happening in your circulation area by asking the following questions: 

Isn’t the adoption of T21 by more states good news?

That depends on who influences the bill. On June 9, 2019, Texas joined 14 other states in passing T21 legislation. Like bills in other states, the new law allows exemptions; in Texas, for example, 18- to 20-year-olds serving in the military don’t have to comply with the new law, which takes effect on September 1.

Exemptions that weaken tobacco laws are being used by lobbyists to override state and local laws, say public health advocates, and it takes 17 years to reverse harmful legislation once it’s in place. The website of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a public health nonprofit group, has been keeping track of legislation since launching T21 in 1996. Currently, legislation has passed in more than 475 cities, counties and states (29 to date). Find out where your state stands on the issue by searching this map on Tobacco21.org.

What is accelerating the T21 campaign?

The rise in vaping among users under 18. Most e-cigarettes contain varying amounts of tobacco, explains the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Young users don’t think vaping is addictive, which may explain the alarming rise in vaping. Vaping use among middle school and high school students increased by 48% and 78% from 2017 to 2018,according to research from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For this story, talk to parents of young and teen children. You may find a local group advocating on this issue to interview.

How are lawmakers responding?

It’s complex. On one hand, newly-proposed federal legislation would raise the national age to buy tobacco to 21.  Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced the Tobacco-Free Youth Acton June 9, 2019. On the other, an increasing number of states and their lawmakers are enacting state bills that practically ensure ineffective regulation. In Sen. Kaine’s home state, for example, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, asked an Altria employee to explain the bill to his committee. What’s happening in your state legislature?  

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