Why T21 Laws Matter: Getting Ahead of the Pack

Published by Tobacco Stops With Me on October 22, 2019

When the tobacco industry looks at Oklahoma’s youth, do you know what they see? Dollar signs. Job security. A lifetime supply of customers.

For decades, they’ve conspired to hook our kids because they’ve seen the research.

They understand that young minds are particularly vulnerable to the effects of nicotine — and they exploit it for their own profit. The tobacco industry spends more than $172 million a year marketing in Oklahoma and now they’re using colorful packaging and flavored vaping products to hook kids on nicotine. Sadly, it works, as we know 9 out of 10 smokers start by age 21. That’s Not OK. However, raising the tobacco age to 21 could save thousands of kids from ever starting. The positive outcomes we’ve seen in other cities, counties and states have proven that T21 is a worthy investment.

The Situation

Teens aren’t getting their nicotine products from older adults. They’re getting them from slightly older peers — the people they hang out with. Ninety percent of those who supply cigarettes to minors are just 18-20 years-old. Raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21 cuts out the middleman. Policies that do exactly that are being implemented across the country. Known collectively as “T21,” these policies eliminate an important pipeline for getting tobacco into the hands of minors.

The Consequences of Teen Tobacco Use

Tobacco companies are making the profit … and teen brains are paying the price. Exposure to nicotine during adolescence affects brain development, which continues to age 25.

Young adults are still developing the brain structures that control:

  • Impulses
  • Decision-making
  • Pleasure-seeking
  • Forethought
  • Peer susceptibility and conformity

Young-adult smoking continues to grow in Oklahoma, but legislative remedies hold the key for change. Raising the legal minimum age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarette devices from 18 to 21 is vital to protecting youth.

The Solution

According to a 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine, if T21 were passed now in the U.S., it could:

  • Prevent 223,000 premature deaths
  • Prevent 50,000 deaths specifically from lung cancer
  • Reduce smoking prevalence by an additional 12%

Proof T21 Works

Back in 2005, the town of Needham, Massachusetts, made history by becoming the first to raise the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21. Within just five years, high school smoking rates were cut in half. Experts attribute this sharp decrease to teenagers’ loss of suppliers.

As of now, 18 states and more than 500 cities and counties have passed T21 laws, and the benefits are adding up quickly.

Nearby states and cities are enacting these policies. It’s time for Oklahoma to follow in these footsteps and protect our youth.

Join the Fight

Reducing our youth’s exposure to nicotine products is crucial to their future health and wellbeing. Seventy four percent of Oklahomans support T21, including the majority of current smokers.

We must listen to the majority — especially to the people who are grappling with the consequences of their own addiction. The next logical step in common-sense tobacco legislation is T21.