On Dec. 20 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that President Trump signed legislation to allow the age requirement of tobacco sales to raise from 18 to 21, which since has affected communities around the nation.
With this law change, Greenville began to convert to follow federal requirements and both East Carolina University students and staff claim the law change will cause different outcomes for the area.
Assistant Professor of the College of Health and Human Performance at ECU, Eric Soule, strives to perform research in alternative tobacco product use and tobacco regulatory science. He said research toward raising the legal age from 18 to 21 has been going on for awhile in the field.
“One of the reasons why they are doing this is that most people start smoking cigarettes before the age of 18, or using tobacco products before the age of 18, and so virtually other people who smoke cigarettes are starting before the age of 21,” Soule said.
The main goal of the law change is to help prevent people from becoming addicted to using tobacco related products at an early age, according to Soule.
He said the law is a positive change in hopes it will help the younger generation, including ECU students, to avoid using these products for the rest of their lives.
“So the big thing is if we can prevent people from smoking cigarettes or tobacco products before they get to the age of 21, there is a really good chance we can prevent tobacco use for most of their life,” Soule said.
Additionally, Assistant Professor of the College of Health and Human Performance, Joseph Lee, directs his research path toward tobacco use and public health policies. He said one of the major things that stood out to him when conducting research is the fact that tobacco products are one of the leading causes of death in the US.
“Tobacco products are the leading cause of preventable death in the US, so basically all of us by the time we are 25 we know people who have had tobacco related diseases...and it just touches all of us and causes so much death,” Lee said.
With the concern of how students will benefit from the law change Lee said he believes it will help prevent students from becoming addicted to tobacco products. The lifestyle of students will not change, according to Lee, but their health will improve.
“I think the benefit is really there for the health of the population, I don't think it will change the day to day of ECU very much, it just takes the tobacco laws and makes them similar to the alcohol age of sale so I mean the evidence all says this is good for health,” Lee said.
Local businesses such as smoking-related product retailer High Life Smoke Shop Greenville, have raised its consumer age to 21 and older to make all in store purchases. High Life is known for drawing in ECU students, due to its close location to campus.
Announced on its Instagram page Dec. 27, the smoke shop stated due to the newly passed law enforced by the FDA, customers will no longer be allowed to purchase products in its store.
“Due to the new law everyone must be 21 or older to make purchases in our store from now on,” posted on the High Life Greenville Instagram page.
Junior health fitness major Ryan Drew said he believes the use of tobacco products on campus will slow down because it will become harder for students to obtain from local shops.
Though local businesses, such as High Life, have made the switch to prevent underage customers from purchasing tobacco and tobacco related products, students will still try to get around the law, according to Drew.
“I definitely think we are going to see a bit of a kickback from the students in the use in general, people are definitely going to try to get around by any means cause its just like alcohol, when you tell them don’t buy it they're going to want to buy it now,” Drew said.
Senior computer science major Robben Medlin does not think raising the purchasing age will solve the real problem. He said he found the new law more of a negative move and influence more students to be interested in tobacco related products than before.
“I don’t think that raising the tobacco age being raised to 21 is necessarily a positive thing,” Medlin said. “I believe it will make more college kids interested in it who probably would never be interested in it in the first place just because it’s now been raised to 21, similar to how college students view alcohol usage.”
Medlin also commented on how it may be skirting a bigger issue pertaining to cigarettes, and how that may affect others.
“I also think that it does not address the larger issue of big tobacco companies influencing minors into smoking cigarettes and ends up hurting smaller cigar businesses who are not part of the big cigarette corps,” Medlin said.
Deputy Chief of ECU’s Police Department Jason Suggs explained how the law may not have a direct affect on college students.
He said the law mostly affects the distribution of tobacco products. Though people under 21 can no longer purchase these products, they will not face any consequences of possession.
“The law changes really revolves around the sale purchase and distribution of tobacco products for people under the age of 21,” Suggs said. “So it doesn’t really involve possessing or anything like that, it deals with regulatory things.”
While there are restrictions on those under 21, they can legally possess tobacco and not be criminally charged for it.
Suggs also said that if a business were to sell tobacco products to anyone under 21, there would be criminal penalties that come along with that. Being caught trying to use a fake ID is another thing that would be considered a violation of law.
“As far as impacts to campus itself, I personally do not foresee any impact like on campus for example,” Suggs said. “I just don’t see that happening because it again deals with the sales around these products not the possession of them.”