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Editorial: Raise the age to buy tobacco and vaping products

Many American teens wouldn’t dream of lighting up a cigarette. They know that tobacco smoking is an easily acquired and often deadly habit. Too many, however, shrug off companion health warnings and fire up e-cigarettes instead.

Now Illinois lawmakers are poised to make that harder by raising to 21 from 18 the legal age to buy tobacco or e-cigarette products. The Illinois Senate has approved a measure on a 35-20 vote; the proposal now moves to the House.

We urge lawmakers to vote yes, and Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign the bill into law.

This is not a Nanny State overreach into the personal habits of Illinoisans. It’s a smart way to help some unknowable percentage of young people from decisions that they and their families would regret for decades to come.

We’re sure that lawmakers hear many of the same arguments against this proposal that we have: 18-year-olds serve in the military and vote, why can’t they buy cigarettes or e-cigarettes? We say no for the same reason that we supported a statewide ban on smoking in public places a decade ago. Because it’s a public health imperative that yields huge benefits. Anyone miss those smoky restaurants? Anyone?

New Poll: New York Voters Overwhelmingly Support Increasing the Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21

A new poll released today finds that 72 percent of New York voters favor raising the minimum age for the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products in New York state from age 18 to 21. Fewer than two-in-ten voters (18 percent) oppose increasing the sale age for tobacco products.

“The poll found that voters are concerned about tobacco use among young people and that New Yorkers across the political spectrum are broadly supportive of raising the age for sale of tobacco,” noted Jeffrey Plaut of Global Strategy Group, the firm conducting the survey.

Other poll findings include:

Support for increasing the tobacco age comes from a broad-based coalition of voters, including 69 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents.

Voters from across the state support increasing the tobacco age to 21, with support at 71 percent among New York City voters, 72 percent among suburban voters, and 73 percent among Upstate voters.

Eight out of ten voters (81 percent) are concerned about smoking and other tobacco use among young people under age 21 in New York.

The poll also found that voters still strongly support raising the tobacco sale age to 21 even when they hear arguments on both sides of the issue. After hearing common arguments on both sides, more than two-thirds (68 percent) favor the increased age and 23 percent oppose it.

California shows initial signs of T21 taking effect

First evaluation from CA

Last month, an evaluation team from the State of California released their first findings in compliance to the new law. The research article outlines the state’s process in passing and implementing their Tobacco 21 law. The authors also note that other articles evaluating the effectiveness of T21 are limited to a local lens. This study provides the first look at the effectiveness of statewide T21 laws.

Methods and Evidence

The research team utilized an effective logic model to identify activities and deliverables used in the process. They also included short-, medium-, and long-term outcomes of the policy. This study mainly focuses on short-term outcomes, given the short length of time available to conduct research.

Additionally, the researchers conducted polling related to tobacco products for retailers and adults. These polls give important information on the attitudes and perceptions of the law within the retailer and adult populations. While the adult survey was administered pre- and post-T21, the retailer survey was only conducted post-T21. Adult support for the law differs across demographics and is examined very closely in the ‘Discussion’ section of the article.

Most interesting about this research article are the Tobacco Purchase Surveys using minor operatives and decoys to check compliance with the law among sales to minors and sales to 18-20 year old age group. These surveys were non-enforcement-related checks and did not result in disciplinary action. However, the checks provide good evidence for the effectiveness of T21 and the inclusion of compliance checks in a robust enforcement program.

Decrease in sales to minors

Data from compliance checks for teens under 18 points towards a decrease in the availability and access of tobacco products. The research shows a significant decline in illegal sales to teens 15-16 years old and notes the first significant decline in the survey data since 2009. This decline is attributed to the short-term effectiveness of T21.

This data is a strong representation of the retail environment, however, we are still waiting on tobacco use data from California State surveys. The article notes that the survey data may not yield results because the elapsed time between data collection pre- and post-T21 implementation was too short.

Importance of evaluation

In public health, our practice is informed through theory and evidence of strong policies. In the case of T21, the theory and rationale is solid. However, there is still a need for strong evaluation data supporting the theories behind this policy. This will increase the evidence base and improve momentum among many state legislatures. The continuation of research and evaluation like that being conducted in California is key to the success of T21 laws.

Washington State Department of Health – Why 21?

The Washington State Department of Health highlights a few of the many reasons to raise the minimum legal sales age for all tobacco products to 21 in this short video.