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School officials plead with lawmakers to support raising tobacco, vaping age to 21

MADISON (WKOW) — High school principals, students and health experts pleaded with lawmakers to support a proposal to increase the tobacco and vaping age to 21. 

The bipartisan proposal had its first public hearing in the Committee on Substance Abuse and Prevention. It comes as health experts are calling vaping a public health crisis and dozens of teenagers in Wisconsin are being hospitalized with vaping related illnesses.

The bill raises the legal age for sale, purchase, possession of cigarettes, nicotine, tobacco and vaping products.

A high school principal from Arrowhead who testified said vaping is taking over his school.

“I became a principal to make an impact on our youth, unfortunately, I’m spending way too much time tackling the vaping problem when I should be doing other things,” said Gregg Wieczorek, Arrowhead’s principal.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, e-cigarette use has increased by 154% between 2014-2018. Last year, the department said one out of every five students is using vaping devices. 

Bryn Dresselhuys just started her freshman year at Whitefish Bay High and said most of her peers don’t understand the dangers and the consequences of vaping. 

“I’ve seen quite a large amount (using them) and that’s troubling honestly,” she said. “A lot of these kids are throwing away really big futures.”

Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) said when you turn 18, you are considered an adult and he believes adults should be able to make their own decisions.

Supporters argue the brain is still developing until your mid-20’s.

“To say they can’t make a decision until their 21 on tobacco age products… should we be talking about taking away the right to vote until 21 because the brain isn’t developed?” said Rep. Nygren.

The proposal will now be placed on the calendar to be voted on in committee.

The American Heart Association also backs the proposal.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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