Higher Tobacco Purchase Age Only First Step
Last month, President Trump signed legislation that increased the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 years old. That move, one advocated for by TSET and other state and national organizations, is great first step toward decreasing youth tobacco addiction, but more remains to be done.
A higher purchase age could prevent 223,000 premature deaths, prevent 50,000 deaths from lung cancer and reduce smoking prevalence by an additional 12% across the nation, according to a 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine.
In addition to reducing the death toll of tobacco, increasing the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 will also reduce the numbers of young people who become daily adult smokers. Research shows that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. Four out of five become regular, daily smokers before age 21. If we want to reduce adult smoking, we need to ensure that fewer young people start. Tobacco 21, a law that was already in place in 19 other states, is essential to a tobacco-free future.
At the same time, we still need to be vigilant in enforcing provisions that will keep tobacco and vapor products from being sold to young people. The adolescent brain develops until age 25, our youth should not walk into adulthood and the workforce hampered by addiction.
Ways to stem the tide of increased nicotine addiction and youth vaping also need to be top of the list. Earlier this month, the FDA issued guidance that restricts flavors for cartridge style vaping products – JUUL being the most popular.
The FDA on Jan. 2, issued new rules saying flavored cartridge-based vapor products would be unauthorized for sale. Like most policies – read the fine print – the flavor restrictions will apply to cartridge-based e-cigarettes. Vape liquid for tank-style devices can still be any flavor. JUUL and other makers of vaping cartridges can still sell products flavored with menthol, a close cousin of JUUL’s best-selling mint flavor. Research has shown that mint flavor was one of the most popular for youth.
There is room for state policies that will take these protections furthers. Some states and communities have instituted a ban on flavors – including menthol, which is has been shown to make tobacco products more attractive to children.
Our state still lags in protecting workers from secondhand smoke and state leaders would be wise to pass a comprehensive smokefree policy in Oklahoma. Current clean air laws includes exemptions that expose 30,000 workers to the hazards of second-hand smoke, not to mention making it harder for current smokers to quit.
Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in Oklahoma and across the country, and it costs every Oklahoma $545 each year, whether they smoke or not.
Tobacco Stops With Me, a program of TSET, outlined a seven-point policy plan that would help reduce the smoking rate by half in ten years and keep our kids safe from nicotine addiction. The momentum to continue to protect young people from tobacco and nicotine needs to continue to create a healthier Oklahoma. Visit StopWithMe.com to learn more.
Julie Bisbee is executive director of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), a voter-created grant-making trust devoted to preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease, Oklahoma’s leading causes of death.