Raising the age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 will reduce the number of young adults who become lifetime smokers, thereby saving thousands of lives and billions of healthcare dollars in New York state and the United States.
We do not allow young people to purchase alcohol until they are 21. We also should not allow those younger than 21 to purchase highly addictive and harmful cigarettes.
Two states, Hawaii and California, along with thousands of communities nationally and seven counties in New York, have raised the age to purchase tobacco. Moreover, a wide variety of tobacco control efforts by state and county health departments and community groups have helped decrease youth tobacco use.
But more needs to be done.
According to the 2014 U.S. Surgeon General’s report, nearly 95 percent of smokers started smoking before age 21. The average age that a daily smoker has a first cigarette is 15, and the average age a person starts daily smoking is 18.
Brain research reveals that when teenagers are exposed to smoking, they are more likely to become lifetime smokers and tend to smoke more than those who begin smoking at a later age.
Tobacco 21 legislation works.
Research has demonstrated that raising the age of legal purchase significantly reduces the number of high school students who smoke. A report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) projected that raising the age of legal purchase to 21 will reduce initiation of tobacco use among adolescents by 15 to 25 percent and lead to eventual reduction of the overall smoking rate by 12 percent.
The IOM stated that raising the age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 in the U.S. will likely: immediately improve the health of adolescents and young adults by reducing smoking-caused health problems; prevent 250,000 premature deaths among children born between 2000 and 2019; prevent 286,000 premature births by 2100; prevent 438,000 infants from having low birth weight; save an estimated 4000 infants from sudden infant death syndrome; save billions of dollars in healthcare costs and billions of dollars from reduced productivity from tobacco-related illnesses – all with little cost to taxpayers.
Additionally, Tobacco 21 legislation would support military efforts to curtail smoking.
The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have long been engaged in efforts to reduce tobacco use.
Smoking has been banned at many military installations for nearly 20 years. All branches of the military ban tobacco use during basic training. The secretary of the Navy proposed banning tobacco sales on all Navy ships and Navy and Marine bases.
Department of Defense surveys conclude that tobacco use adversely affects military readiness.
Tobacco use is associated with reduced physical fitness, increased risk of injury and slower healing of wounds. Also, tobacco use has been implicated in higher dropout rates among recruits and a higher rate of absenteeism in active-duty personnel.
The 2014 Surgeon General’s report found that tobacco companies have actually adulterated cigarettes to make them more addictive and deadly.
A major tobacco company filed for a patent to add levulinic acid to cigarettes. Court-enforced release of industry documents later showed that the tobacco industry knew that levulinic acid enhanced the binding of nicotine to brain cells.
Evidence reveals that states that have raised the drinking age to 21 have reduced cases of alcohol-related health problems and deaths.
Raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 would show similar results.
As a physician, I see the devastating effects of tobacco use among my patients, young and old, every day. The entire medical community strongly supports Tobacco 21 legislation – we know that it works.
Check out tobacco21.org for more information. Please contact your state legislators and ask them to increase the age for purchase of all tobacco products to 21.
I know it will save lives.
Dr. Roy Korn is president of the Schoharie County Medical Society.