FEB. 23, 2018 3 min read

Reed is infamous among students for its large smoking culture. For better or worse, it is almost impossible to venture around campus without seeing students, staff, and faculty alike in smoking shelters and various grassy areas around campus. However, this will soon change. As of January 1, 2018, the state of Oregon has raised the smoking age from 18 to 21. Because of this, many students at Reed who have been smoking for years will no longer be able to legally obtain tobacco products.

According to the official email notice from Mike Brody, “It would not be necessary to change the college’s Smoking Policy at this time, because the policy contains a provision to always comply with relevant laws.” The Community Safety Smoking & Tobacco Engagement Summary states that the new smoking law will be enforced in a very similar manner to the alcohol policy. Now, however, CSO’s will be required to engage with people whom they believe to be under the age of 21 and are found in possession of tobacco or an inhalant delivery system, such as a vape or water pipe. If a person is found to be under the age of 21, “CSOs will ask any minor found in possession of tobacco or inhalant delivery systems to surrender them and they will be destroyed.” In practice, it seems that the new smoking policy will be enforced like any other substance.

One of the main concerns expressed by students at Reed is what underage students who currently smoke should do. The good news is that, according to the Multnomah County website, “The Tobacco 21 law does not restrict the sale of nicotine replacement therapy products to smokers as young as 18. Youth aged 18–20 can still buy nicotine patches and gum to help quit.” Reed also offers resources like peer support groups and one-on-one counseling to aid students in quitting. It is also important to note that while the law prevents people under the age of 21 from “legally buy[ing] or obtain[ing] tobacco products, inhalant delivery systems, and tobacco product devices,” according to the Oregon Health Authority, “There currently is no violation for people ages 18, 19, and 20 to possess tobacco products or inhalant delivery systems. It is unlawful for a person under 18 years of age to possess tobacco products or inhalant delivery systems.”

According to the Oregon Health Authority, the new smoking law was implemented in part because “The earlier kids start using tobacco, the more at risk they are for chronic disease including heart disease, asthma and cancer.  Most addiction to tobacco starts in adolescence. Most adults who smoke report that they started smoking before turning 18, and almost all start before they turn 26.  Raising the legal age of sale for tobacco products to 21 is projected to reduce smoking rates and reduce tobacco-related death.”

This tobacco law makes Oregon the fifth state to raise the tobacco age to 21, preceded by California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Maine, as well as at least 285 localities across the nation, as reported by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. According to a 2015 article by The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, “Of the people who have ever smoked daily, 90 percent first tried a cigarette before 19 years of age and  nearly all others tried their first cigarette before the age of 26.”  Although this law was made with the best of intentions, its effectiveness, particularly at Reed, is yet to be seen.