Debate centers around vaping bill that could increase age to buy products

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - A state senator and four Grand Island schools are pushing a legislative bill that could increase the age to buy vape and tobacco products from 18 to 21, but some people don't think that's the solution.

Senator Dan Quick, District 35, proposed LB 149 to the General Affairs Committee on March 4. Not only does it up the age on vaping and tobacco use, it would also change licensing laws for any business that sells these products.

"There's nicotine in the product. So they don't understand that there's a chance they could be addicted to nicotine," said Sen. Quick. "I just hate to see us have a whole generation that would be fighting a nicotine addiction."

One pod of a Juul is equal to one pack of cigarettes, although not all vape devices contain that much nicotine. The Juul looks like a USB drive, which some teachers said makes it easy for students to sneak into classes.

This is the problem staff at Grand Island Public Schools, Grand Island Central Catholic, Heartland Lutheran and Northwest said they're seeing.

That's why they joined forces to speak out against the negative effects of vaping that they're seeing in their schools.

They're going even further by taking the issue to the legislature.

"In theory it's going to take some of these devices out of the hands of kids who would otherwise be able to purchase them from a recent graduate or from an older sibling who's between the ages of 18 to 21," said Jordan Engle, principal at Grand Island Central Catholic. "We really want to take away that ability for kids to have ease of access on these devices."

Demetrius Alexander is 18, and vapes regularly. He said he doesn't think this bill will actually stop kids from vaping.

"If minors want to get their hands on things, I promise you they'll slip and find a way. Laws are only so strong, and we keep them there for a reason, but this law right here shouldn't be passed," Alexander said.

Alexander works at e-Titan with his dad in Grand Island, where they sell vape products from 18 mg to 0 mg of nicotine. For context, one pack of cigarettes has 18 mg of nicotine.

He said their goal is to help cigarette smokers kick the habit, so their goal is to get people down to no nicotine at all, which is what he's working toward.

If this bill were to pass, Alexander wouldn't be able to legally vape at all.

"It makes me worried, because I got off of cigarettes with vaping, and a lot of my friends themselves also got off smoking cigarettes with vaping. Vaping is clearly the better option for everybody," Alexander said.

He said he's also concerned that some young people might return to cigarettes if the bill passed, even if it was illegal, because he said he thinks they're easier to get.

But Engle said he still thinks LB 149 is still a step in the right direction.

"We know it's not going to solve the problem. Kids are still going to want to make the decisions that they make, but what it does for us is it makes it that much more difficult for a kid to get a hold of the hardware that's necessary to vape in school or vape outside of school as well," Engle said.

Sen. Quick said the bill is still in committee, and he's working with the chair to change some of the language in the bill before it moves forward.

He said he's also trying to get the committee to prioritize the bill so it moves quicker, and said if they won't, he will.