The Juul Effect: Why Tobacco Reform Failed in the 1920s, and Why It Might Again

The Forgotten History of Kids and Tobacco Reform

Alice C. Minium


On Tuesday, February 5, the Virginia House of Delegates passed legislation that could raise the minimum age to buy tobacco and vaping products from age 18 to 21. The bill, HB2748, would be the first change to legal smoking ages in 27 years. While the bill still awaits approval from Governor Northam, the 67–31 vote in favoring of raising the legal smoking age to 21 would have hugely impactful effects.

The law explicitly includes “tobacco product[s], nicotine vapor product[s], or alternative nicotine products[s],” with a clear emphasis to include vaporizers, e-liquids, and e-cigarette devices.

In addition to raising the legal smoking age to 21 (for both vaping and cigarettes), the law would also affect shipping regulations for vaporizer and nicotine products, as well as impose steep penalties for providing such devices to minors or consuming such items as a minor.

Similar to Canadian laws on vaping, the law would also require vaping products, juices, and e-liquids to display a prominent Surgeon General’s warning (similar to the one we now see on cigarettes).

Virginia, a state with historically lax tobacco regulations, raised the legal smoking age from 16 to 18 in 1991. The legal smoking age has been 18 years old for almost three decades. Raising the age to 21 would be state’s most major change to ATF access in almost thirty years.

But it’s not quite as crazy as it sounds.

Juul Pods of the Industrial Revolution: Contextualizing Minimum Ages of Legal Access to Tobacco in U.S. History

“Might I hit your Juul, m’lad?” (Courtesy of Roger Mayne; Editing Courtesy of Me)

The year is 1890. The United States is still young. In light of the newly burgeoning temperance movement, a new, long-lingering demon has come to our attention.

In 1890, the average American’s tobacco consumption is 35 cigarettes per capita. Perhaps in response to this, states began imposing age…



Alice C. Minium

Richmond-based writer, investigative researcher, and police abolitionist. Contact me at