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Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Wednesday, September 28, 2016  
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Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Sep. 28 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With approval Monday by the City Council of Liberty, Mo., at least 200 cities and counties across the United States (PDF) have now enacted laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21. The fast-growing Tobacco 21 movement is an innovative strategy that can accelerate progress in reducing tobacco use – the nation’s No. 1 preventable cause of death – and help make the next generation tobacco-free. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will help prevent young people from ever starting to smoke and reduce the deaths, disease and health care costs caused by tobacco use.

In addition to the 200 cities and counties in 14 states, California and Hawaii have enacted statewide laws raising the tobacco age to 21. Major cities that have done so include New York City, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland and both Kansas Cities. Statewide legislation is under consideration in several other states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington state, as well as in Washington, D.C. Federal legislation has also been introduced by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO).

Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will 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. Nationally, about 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. If we can keep them from smoking as kids, then most will never start.

The increase in the tobacco age will help counter the industry’s 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 prestigious Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) concluded that increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 would yield substantial public health benefits, predicting that a nationwide law would, over time, reduce the smoking rate by 12 percent and smoking-related deaths by 10 percent. This translates into 223,000 fewer premature deaths.

While the United States has made tremendous progress in reducing smoking, tobacco use still kills more than 480,000 Americans and costs the nation about $170 billion in health care bills each year. If current trends continue, 5.6 million of today’s youth will die prematurely from a smoking-related illness. We applaud the elected officials who have supported Tobacco 21 for their leadership in helping end this terrible epidemic.