It is already illegal to sell any tobacco products, “vaping” devices or supplies to anyone under the age of 18. But new data from Rhode Island Department of Health, or RIDOH, may have lawmakers taking a harder look at even tighter restrictions.
Since mid-2013 anyone wanting to sell tobacco in the state’s capital, Providence, must apply for a special tobacco retail license. The sale of tobacco and tobacco-related products is severely restricted in places filling stations, supermarkets and drug stores, while tobacco coupons, samples and giveaways are banned altogether.
The result has been astounding. Smoking and smoking-related activities in teenagers has dropped to half of what it is in nearby communities. In Cranston, for example, 7.6% of teens report using flavored tobacco; in Providence that number is 3.2% In Woonsocket, e-cigarettes are used by 12.7% of kids; in Providence, the number is less than 4%.
While skeptics may look at stories like this and say, “Oh, kids will just get it somewhere else,” that does not appear to be the case. Or, as Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott put it in the agency’s press release, “Providence’s policies that restrict tobacco sales were very likely a significant factor in the city’s lower rate of tobacco use among teenagers.”
Rhode Island currently has the lowest teen smoking rate in the U.S. In that state fewer than 5% of high school students use cigarettes.