There’s a lot of confusion on the legal age for vaping in the US, with different figures popping up for different states.
So, how old do you have to be to vape legally in the US?
In 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration set the minimum age to vape at 21 years.
This age restriction was implemented due to concerns about the growing use of tobacco products, smoking, and vaping among teens and the associated health risks and side effects.
If you're a young person below the minimum age, risking a puff could have you face penalties. However, a retailer distributing a vapor product to minors may face legal repercussions.
This article will cover everything you need to know about the legal minimum age for vaping in the US. And if you're above 21 years old - we'll introduce you to non-addictive, nicotine-free vapes for a safe experience (from Cyclone Pods).
This Article Contains:
- How Old Do You Have to Be to Vape?
- Legal Repercussions for Unlawful Vaping & Distribution
- How Has the T21 Law Impacted E-Cigarette Use Among Teens?
- Why Is Vaping Age Restricted in the US? (Health Risks & Side Effects)
- Nicotine-Free Vaping: A Safer Alternative
How Old Do You Have to Be to Vape?
As we discussed above, the minimum legal age to vape in the United States is 21 year.
On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed a legislation amending the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, raising the federal minimum legal age for selling or using a tobacco product from 18 to 21.
Also known as the “Tobacco 21” (or T21) legislation, this new law came into effect immediately.
The Tobacco 21 law prohibits retailers from selling any tobacco and alternative nicotine products (including non vapor and vapor products) to anyone under 21.
These vapor products include (but are not limited to) an electronic cigar, vape pen, and hookah (or shisha). A non vapor product could be any smokeless tobacco product like chewing or snuff tobacco.
Similarly, an alternative nicotine product doesn’t contain tobacco but provides a way to ingest nicotine - through chewing, inhaling, dissolving, etc. It usually contains synthetic tobacco (or nicotine) that aims to replicate a real tobacco product.
Although the T21 federal law specifically mentions tobacco cigarettes and other tobacco products, it also extends to vape laws. This is because, as of 2023, vapes and electronic cigarette devices are classified as tobacco products in the United States.
According to the FDA, this new federal minimum legal age of sale applies to all retail establishments and persons across the US without exception, contributing significantly to tobacco control.
That said, many US states had minimum age laws for buying tobacco products before the T21 law was passed.
For instance, the minimum smoking age in North Carolina and South Carolina was 18 years.
This creates a discrepancy between the federal and the state law. However, any sale of tobacco products in such states would still be subject to federal authorities’ law enforcement.
Such states are gradually raising their minimum legal age to 21 to align with the federal T21 law.
As of March 2023, 40 states have enforced the T21 law.
Now, you may be wondering — what are the penalties for underage vaping?
Let’s find out.
Legal Repercussions for Unlawful Vaping & Distribution in the US
In the USA, selling a tobacco product (like tobacco cigarettes and vapes) to persons under the legal minimum age limit is a criminal offense — and directly violates federal law and tobacco control efforts. This will result in legal action if you're caught.
A minor, on the other hand, could face penalties if caught buying or using vapor products.
Did you know? Over 80% of adult smokers started before they turned 18, and nearly 95% started before age 21 (legal vaping age.)
Unlawful vaping: If you’re caught in possession of a vape device (as a minor) or in the act of underage vaping, you can face a fine of $50 and attend mandatory education classes on the health risks of vaping.
You may also be required to complete community service. And in case you didn’t know, falsely representing your age as above 21 years is also a punishable offense.
Unlawful sale/distribution by tobacco retailers: Tobacco sales of nicotine products (including e cigarette products) to minors will result in a $100 fine for the first offense. Penalties for a second offense are $500, and $2500 for a third offense.
In some cases, an offending tobacco retailer may also face jail time and/or revocation of their vape shop license to sell tobacco products.
Note: Vaping cannabis products is largely illegal in many states. Cannabis products have different laws and regulations than tobacco sales and products.
While this age restriction may seem harsh, it was implemented for a good reason. There are many harmful health effects caused by electronic cigarette and tobacco use, which are more severe for minors below the legal vaping age.
How Has the T21 Law Impacted E-Cigarette Use Among Teens?
One of the key reasons for the T21 federal law was to curb teen access to and usage of vaping products.
Naturally, one might wonder about the law's effectiveness in achieving this goal. A 2023 report on the impact of Tobacco 21 on youth tobacco use and sales between 2012-2019 unveils some compelling insights:
- 12th graders' cigarette use drops by 21.4% due to T21 laws.
- Cigarette use among 8th and 10th graders sees a modest reduction.
- The use of e cigarette products decreases across all grade levels.
- In counties with a high proportion of under-21 individuals, T21 laws led to a substantial 69.3% decrease in e-cigarette sales.
This data underscores the tangible impact of the tobacco laws on teen e-cigarette usage and supports its intended objective.
These figures also highlight how the Tobacco 21 law has managed to counter the dubious marketing tactics of the ‘big tobacco’ companies.
As we look at how the T21 law affected teen e cigarette use, let's further explore why age restrictions were put in place.
Why Is Vaping Age Restricted in the US? (Health Risks & Side Effects)
There’s no denying that vaping and e cigarette use is a much safer alternative to cigarette smoking — but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely risk-free. Nicotine vaping is known to cause many public health risks and side effects, which can be more severe if you’re a young person.
In fact, a 2015 report by the National Academy of Medicine highlighted how raising the minimum age to access tobacco products to 21 could save lives.
It suggested that this law might stop around 223,000 deaths in people born from 2000 to 2019, with about 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer.
This scientific endorsement became the driving force behind advocacy efforts and led to the enactment of the T21 law.
Here are the common risks and side effects of nicotine vaping:
1. Hampers Brain Development in Teens
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nicotine in vape devices can affect brain development in teens and young adults — and can cause long-term changes.
Did you know? The human brain keeps developing till the age of 25.
Smoking initiation and nicotine product use during these developing years in young people can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, impulse control, learning, and mood.
2. Nicotine Addiction
Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant found in most vape devices and vape juice products. It’s known to form dependency quickly, leading to cravings and withdrawal over time.
Nicotine addiction often leads to compulsive use disorders, potentially causing mental health problems like anxiety later on.
3. Asthma and Lung Scarring
E cigarette use drastically increases the risk of developing asthma and other lung conditions. Additionally, using a vaping device may worsen any pre-existing asthma or lung conditions further.
But that’s not the worst part.
Some low-quality vaping products contain harmful chemicals like diacetyl and formaldehyde. Diacetyl is the chemical in some flavoring agents that can cause bronchiolitis obliterans (aka “popcorn lung”), resulting in permanent lung scarring.
4. Secondhand Exposure
Although vapes don’t produce smoke, the vapor released can affect others around the vaper, especially indoors. Bystanders exposed to secondhand smoke from a vape may be at risk of experiencing the same side effects of vaping as the vaper.
This secondhand smoke is more severe for high-risk groups such as young children, the elderly, and persons with pre-existing lung conditions.
5. Increased Risk of Cancer Development
Research shows that nicotine has very little ability to initiate cancer growth. However, a recent study from the National Library of Medicine suggests that the nicotine in vapor can promote the growth of cancer cells in the body.
6. EVALI (E Cigarette or Vaping Associated Lung Injury)
EVALI is a severe lung condition caused by vaping a chemical called vitamin E acetate — an ingredient in many low-quality vaping device products.
According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), EVALI is known to cause health issues such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain
- Fever and chills
- Weight loss
Did you know? According to the National Library of Medicine, electronic smoking devices are estimated to be 95% safer than smoking a regular cigarette. This is because traditional cigarettes contain around 7000 chemicals, while electronic cigarettes only contain around 2000.
7. Other Side Effects of Vaping
Using a nicotine product (like vape juice) can also cause several other side effects, such as:
- Increases in blood pressure and heart rate
- Narrowing of your arteries
- Shortness of breath
- Eye irritation
- Headache & Nausea
- Dry and irritated mouth and throat
Did you know? According to the American Lung Association, some low-quality vape pen products contain the chemical “acrolein” — a herbicide used to kill weeds.
As you can see, many of the health risks and side effects of vaping are directly linked to nicotine use.
Luckily, companies like Cyclone Pods allow us to enjoy the pleasures of vaping without unnecessary exposure to nicotine and other harmful chemicals!
Nicotine-Free Vaping: A Safer Alternative
Although nicotine-free vaping products contain no nicotine or tobacco, they are still classified as tobacco products in the US. This means the legal minimum age of 21 also applies to nicotine-free products.
But here’s the good news!
If you’re over 21 and looking to buy high-quality vaping devices free from harmful chemicals like nicotine — look no further than Cyclone Pods!
Cyclone Pods is a US-based vape company that provides a world-class vape product range that is free from harmful chemicals like:
- Vitamin e-acetate
And if you're on the hunt for something more eco-friendly, explore their newly launched Surge Collection. The Surge vape includes a rechargeable battery (no more e-waste!) and a sturdy pod with over 6000 puffs.
Or, if you prefer a more compact vape with refillable pods, try the Thunder Device from Cyclone Pods instead.
Vape Responsibly With Cyclone Pods
While vaping laws may have dampened the days of many teen vapers, rest assured that it was implemented with your best interests at heart.
The nicotine found in vapes can have devastating and long-lasting effects on young adults’ brain development. Regardless of age, let’s not forget the severe health risks associated with its use.
Luckily, for those above the legal minimum age for vaping, there are still ways to enjoy all the best aspects of vaping without the unnecessary risks.
All you need to do is go to Cyclone Pods and explore their wide range of nicotine-free vaping products!
What are you waiting for?
Take control back from nicotine dependency and raise your quality of life and vaping experience with a high-quality vape product today.