On Monday, Jan. 6, Gov. Asa Hutchinson clarified that the new federal law regarding the purchasing age for tobacco and vaping products supersedes the current Arkansas law.
The Arkansas law, which was passed during the 2019 legislative session, set the minimum purchasing age at 21 but excluded individuals who turned age 19 by the end of 2019 or were active-duty military. But in late December, as part of a spending package, Congress approved raising the purchasing age for traditional tobacco and vaping products to 21 nationwide.
The governor directed the office of Arkansas Tobacco Control to “advise all retailers and the public that the minimum age to buy tobacco products is now 21.” He added that the increase in the purchasing age and “the decision to ban certain flavored e-cigarettes are steps in the right direction toward curbing the vaping epidemic among our nation’s youth.”
This comes on the heels of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Jan. 2 release of guidance prioritizing enforcement against flavored, cartridge-based e-cigarette products. According to an FDA release, “companies that do not cease manufacture, distribution and sale of unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes (other than tobacco or menthol) within 30 days risk FDA enforcement actions.” The FDA is also prioritizing enforcement against e-cigarettes for which “the manufacturer has failed to take (or is failing to take) adequate measures to prevent minors’ access” and e-cigarettes “targeted to minors or whose marketing is likely to promote use … by minors.”
According to the CDC, e-cigarettes are the most common tobacco product currently used by U.S. youth. The 2018 Arkansas Prevention Needs Assessment survey found that among Arkansas public school students, the average age of first time e-cigarette use is 14 years of age. Forty-four percent of Arkansas high school seniors reported having used an e-cigarette at least once in their lifetime, up from 39.3% in 2017.
States can and should take additional steps in the face of the rapid increase in youth e-cigarette initiation and documented health issues related to vaping products. This is particularly true in Arkansas due to legislatively enacted restrictions on the regulatory authority of local governments to limit the damage of these products. Policy options include:
- Levying an excise tax on e-cigarettes that is no less than the tax on tobacco products and is based on nicotine amounts.
- Banning all flavored vaping liquids — including those used in tank-based delivery devices — especially sweet, fruity, or candy-themed flavors.
- Extending the Arkansas Clean Indoor Act, which prohibits smoking in most work places and public spaces, to e-cigarettes.
- Increasing enforcement efforts to ensure retailers are complying with the new age restrictions for tobacco and e-cigarette product purchases.
- Prohibiting e-cigarette advertising that targets youth.
To read more about e-cigarette use among Arkansas public school students and potential state policy options for addressing youth e-cigarette use, see our 100 Arkansans Project – A Closer Look: Youth E-Cigarette Use and State Policy Options infographic and the Vaping Updates & Insights page on our website.