This year, we are celebrating 10 years of a Smoke Free Illinois. This law, while controversial when it was being passed, has become a new, healthier norm. Most young adults barely remember when smoking was allowed everywhere and cannot comprehend people smoking in restaurants and public spaces.
Now, it is time for another new, healthy norm: Tobacco 21. Why 21? Increasing the minimum legal age for sale of tobacco products to 21 years of age will significantly reduce youth tobacco use and over time save thousands of lives.
For 17 years, the teen tobacco use rate in our state was on the decline thanks to education and strong laws that kept this addictive and deadly product out of the hands of our youth. Now, because of heavy advertising, easy access, concealable electronic cigarettes and fruit and candy flavors, tobacco use is once again increasing among Illinois teens. In fact, in 2015 (the latest data available) 32.8 percent of Illinois high school youth reported using tobacco products.
Tobacco 21 laws focus on protecting youth from the death and disease associated with tobacco use. Nearly 95 percent of addicted adult smokers started smoking before they turned 21. If we can keep young people from getting hooked on tobacco products before their 21st birthday, they will likely never become addicted.
Tobacco 21 is our opportunity to stop the tobacco industry from capturing today’s young people as tomorrow’s customers. The American Lung Association encourages elected officials at all levels to support Tobacco 21 policies.
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?
“Columbus City Council members passed the “Tobacco 21” bill on Monday, 7-0. The legislation was sponsored by President Pro Tem Priscilla Tyson.
Dr. Rob Crane said this new law is a prevention tool that really works. He’s a clinical professor at The Ohio State University, as well as founder and president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation.
“I think we introduced the first legislation in Ohio 20 years ago,” he said. “It took a long time to kind of get traction, but now that we have several reports from the Surgeon General, from the Institute of Medicine, we really see the science behind this.”
He cites the book, “Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products,” which was a study requested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) back in 2013.
“Moving tobacco to 21 will save according to this book, about 4.2 million years of life just among kids alive today,” said Dr. Crane. “Studies in Massachusetts have shown that it reduces high school smoking by about half.””
“Tobacco 21 laws that include ENDS should reduce initiation of these products among youth, similar to the suggested impact MLSA laws will have on initiation patterns for cigarettes.Reduced initiation of ENDS through MLSA laws may result in reduced initiation of cigarettes, and it may also result in delayed initiation of cigarette use, because the evidence for ENDS serving as a gateway to cigarette use is increasing. 4, 14 Regardless, it is plausible to predict that local, state, or federal MLSA laws would have a critical role in substantially reducing nicotine exposure among adolescents and young adults, particularly those aged 15 to 17 years.”
“[County Commissioner] Sid Leiken made a logical-sounding argument when he declined to join his four colleagues on the Lane County Board of Commissioners [Health] in voting to direct the county staff to prepare an ordinance raising the age for legal tobacco sales to 21 from 18. Leiken said Lane County shouldn’t make itself an “island” — action to raise the minimum age ought to come at the state level.
Leiken is right; Oregon should join California and Hawaii in banning tobacco sales to people younger than 21. But in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with becoming an island of rational public-health policy.
In fact, islands can be healthful places to live. In 2005 the city of Needham, Mass., became the first jurisdiction in the United States to raise the age for legal tobacco purchases to 21. Skeptics scoffed that teenagers could simply buy cigarettes in any of a dozen neighboring Boston suburbs. But by 2010, smoking among high school students in Needham had dropped by more than half, while the rates in nearby towns showed only slight declines. Needham had made itself an island of addiction avoidance.”