Over the past decade, vaping has developed rapidly, becoming the most popular tobacco consumption category and the most common alternative smoking cessation product. But as it grew in popularity, it also attracted a special kind of clientele—curious minors. Regulators and lawmakers use a variety of tactics to keep teens away from vape products, by far the most common being regulating the age at which vape products can be purchased.
As with alcohol, enforcing a minimum age for vape sales isn’t a perfect solution, but it does appear to be the surest way to reduce teen vaping. It’s not easy for lawmakers to decide the age for vaping, the age for buying a vape, penalties for illegal retailers, and how to enforce legal purchasing age laws. After all, the wrong legislators could inadvertently increase smoking among teens or adults, or help create a black market.
The Age to Vape in Countries Around the World
In most countries, e-cigarettes are either regulated as a tobacco product, as part of a separate consumer product category or are not specifically regulated at all. In some countries, vapor products are banned.
Some countries have a national legal age but allow states or provinces to set a higher legal age. For example, Canada’s national legal age for vaping is 18, but many provinces and territories set 19 as the age allowed to purchase e-cigarette products.
In Australia, it is illegal to sell nicotine-containing consumer products (other than cigarettes) without a doctor’s prescription, but non-nicotine e-cigarettes are allowed and the purchase age varies by state.
In most countries, this age is 18, but as we will see, this varies. In the United States – the world’s largest vape market – the legal smoking age is now 21.
If you plan to travel to another country with vape products, it is wise to check with that country’s authorities before departure to find the most up-to-date information on vaping laws and practices.
Countries Where the Legal Age for Vape is 18:
Papua New Guinea
Countries Where the Legal Age for Vape is 19:
Republic of Korea (South Korea)
Countries Where the Legal Age for Vape is 20:
Countries Where the Legal Age for Vape is 21:
What is the Legal Age to Purchase a Vape in the United States?
Facing pressure from tobacco control groups and concerned parents, Congress passed a federal Tobacco 21 law in December 2019. The new measure, included in the year-end federal appropriations bill, was signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 20 and took effect immediately. Although it covers cigarettes and other tobacco products, the impetus to pass the law came from concern over teen vaping.
The bill adds a line to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act stating that it “shall be unlawful for any retailer to sell a tobacco product to any person younger than 21 years of age.” It mandates that each state must show that the age limit is being enforced—even if the state itself has not passed its own Tobacco 21 law—or risk losing part of its federal substance abuse matching grants.
The new law does not impose penalties for purchase, use, or possession (often called “PUP laws”) by those under 21 (although states and municipalities are free to add those laws), but only for retailers who sell to underage patrons. Current local laws that exempt certain groups (active-duty military members, for example) are now preempted by federal law, which has no such exemptions.
Legal Age to Buy Nicotine
The Deeming Rule defines e-cigarettes and e-liquid as tobacco products, or components or parts of tobacco products. Because components and parts can be used to modify the performance of a “finished product,” they’re also regulated as tobacco products.
As long as zero-nicotine e-liquid can be used with a product (like a mod or atomizer) that can also be used with nicotine-containing e-juice, it is regulated the same way. It may sound foolish, but that’s how the FDA justified including items like atomizer coils, batteries, and computer software in its definition of tobacco products.
Because it is defined as a tobacco product, it is illegal for a retailer to sell zero-nicotine e-liquid to anyone under 21.
When do you think Adulthood Begins?
No one knows when adolescence ends and adulthood begins. In fact, it’s different for every person. But legislators must decide on a legal age of majority—the age at which a young person is allowed to vote, enter contracts, apply for credit, serve in the military, and buy alcohol, tobacco, and other products considered inappropriate for children.
Legislators try to choose an age at which most young people have more adult traits than adolescent ones. Age is always a compromise, but it recognizes that we grant adults the liberty to make many choices that involve risk. Tobacco 21 is an extraordinary law because it judges smoking (and vaping) to be so risky that the choice to do it must be taken away from young adults who are trusted to drive a car, buy a house, get married, go skydiving, or fight in a war. Most countries around the world have not found sufficient evidence to support the need for such an extreme measure.
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