WASHINGTON, D.C. – Our public health organizations support the legislation introduced this week by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and their cosponsors that would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 nationwide. The Tobacco to 21 Act will help reduce tobacco use among young people, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free.
The need for bold action to further reduce tobacco use in the United States is clear. While we have made enormous progress, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in our country, killing more than 480,000 people each year and costing about $170 billion in health care expenses. According to a 2014 report by the U.S. Surgeon General, if current trends continue, 5.6 million of today’s youth will die prematurely from smoking.
Increasing the age of sale for tobacco products to 21 will help reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults – age groups when nearly all tobacco use begins and that are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. We know that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. We also know that tobacco companies spend $8.9 billion a year –$1 million every hour – to market their deadly and addictive products, much of it aimed at young people.
Increasing the tobacco sales age to 21 will help counter the industry’s relentless efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. It will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students.
A 2015 report by the National Academy of Medicine (previously called the Institute of Medicine) predicted that increasing the national tobacco sales age to 21 would significantly reduce the number of adolescents and young adults who start smoking; reduce smoking-caused deaths; and immediately improve the health of adolescents, young adults and young mothers who would be deterred from smoking, as well as their children.
Increasing the tobacco sales age to 21 also has broad public support. A 2015 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 75 percent of adults – including seven in 10 smokers – support increasing the minimum age for sale of tobacco products to 21.
There is a growing, nationwide movement to raise the tobacco age to 21. Five states have enacted Tobacco 21 laws – California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and Oregon. The District of Columbia and more than 230 localities in an additional 13 states have as well, including New York City, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, St. Louis and both Kansas Cities.
Until Congress enacts national legislation raising the tobacco sales age to 21, we urge states and localities to continue taking action.
We applaud Sen. Schatz and Rep. DeGette for their leadership in introducing this legislation to reduce the number of young people who start on a path that too often leads to addiction, disease and premature death.
Becky Wexler, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 202-296-5469
Jill Courtney, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, 202-585-3278
Retha Sherrod, American Heart Association, 202-785-7929
Allison MacMunn, American Lung Association, 312-801-7628
Devin Miller, American Academy of Pediatrics, 202-724-3308