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Delaware lawmakers and youth activists call for raising age to buy tobacco products

Sarah Mueller
State Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown shows what a Juul e-cigarette looks like.

Youth activists are backing legislation raising the age to buy tobacco products in Delaware from 18 years old to age 21.

Dozens of youth gathered with Gov. John Carney (D) as he called on state lawmakers to move quickly on a bill raising the age to purchase nicotine products, including e-cigarettes.

A bill sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Bryan Townsend (D-Newark) would raise the age to purchase tobacco related goods to 21 years old. If signed into law, Delaware would be the eighth state to adopt such a change. 

Flavored e-cigarettes like Juuls are popular among youths and bill supporters say raising the age requirement makes it harder for minors to get them.

House Sponsor State Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown (D-New Castle) said she’s especially concerned about the sharply rising use of e-cigarettes among youth. She held up a type of e-cigarette called Juul and said it scares her. They can be mistaken for flash drives.

“You can stick them right into the computer to charge them, but look in your kids' pockets," she said. "Take a good look at this and know what it looks like because this is what is killing our kids.”

Republican State Rep. Richard Collins (R-Millsboro) said he doesn’t support underage kids smoking. But he won’t support this legislation.

“I don’t see that any little action around the edges of government is gonna prevent people from getting something if they’re determined to get it," he said. "History shows otherwise. Look at illegal drug use in this country.”

Juul company officials maintain that they only market to adults. But data from National Tobacco Youth survey shows a 78 percent jump in e-cigarette use among high school students and 48 percent among middle school students from 2011 to 2018.

Carney said the First State could save more than $500 million annually if fewer people used tobacco products.

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