More states raise to­bacco buy­ing age to 21

Crit­ics de­cry hazy pre­dic­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The move­ment to raise the to­bacco buy­ing age to 21 has caught fire, with re­cent vic­to­ries in three states as anti-smok­ing ad­vo­cates blow past crit­ics who see the mea­sures as an­other du­bi­ous un­der­tak­ing of the nanny state.

Ore­gon Gov. Kate Brown, a Demo­crat, signed leg­is­la­tion Wed­nes­day mak­ing her state the fifth to in­crease the le­gal age for cig­a­rette and va­p­ing pur­chases from 18 to 21. A Maine bill be­came law last week af­ter the Leg­is­la­ture over­rode a veto by Gov. Paul LePage, a Repub­li­can.

Mr. LePage was steamed. He fired off a let­ter Tues­day call­ing leg­is­la­tors hyp­ocrites for for­bid­ding 18-year-olds to buy to­bacco even though they fight in wars and must be tried as adults in court.

He said he agreed that “smok­ing is dan­ger­ous to a per­son’s health, and I would never en­cour­age any­one of any age to smoke cig­a­rettes,” but he added that the new law “at­tempts to ‘so­cial en­gi­neer’ le­gal be­hav­ior by adults who want to use a le­gal prod­uct that you don’t like.”

“If you don’t be­lieve that 18-year-olds are adults who can make their own de­ci­sions, then I hope you will sup­port leg­is­la­tion that in­creases the vot­ing age to 21 and pre­vents mil­i­tary ser­vice un­til a per­son turns 21,” said Mr. LePage.

Such con­cerns have dogged but failed to de­rail the Tobacco21 cam­paign, launched in 2013 by Counter To­bacco, a 6-yearold anti-smok­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion

fo­cused on re­duc­ing to­bacco prod­uct pur­chases at the point of sale.

Hawaii be­came the first state to raise the min­i­mum le­gal sales age for to­bacco prod­ucts in June 2015, fol­lowed by Cal­i­for­nia in May 2016. More than 250 lo­cal­i­ties, in­clud­ing New York City in Oc­to­ber 2013, also have raised the le­gal age.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Repub­li­can, ve­toed the leg­is­la­tion when it hit his desk in Jan­uary 2016, but he changed his mind this year and signed a bill on July 21 that raised the state’s age for buy­ing cig­a­rettes and elec­tronic smok­ing de­vices from 19 to 21.

“My mother died from the ef­fects of smok­ing, and no one should lose their life due to any ad­dic­tive sub­stance,” Mr. Christie said in a state­ment. “Ad­di­tion­ally, the less peo­ple who de­velop costly to­bacco habits that can cause health prob­lems, such as lung can­cer, heart dis­ease and de­vel­op­men­tal is­sues, the less strain there will be on our health care sys­tem.”

Tobacco21 has ar­gued that rais­ing the age will re­sult in fewer smok­ers. It points to a fed­eral sur­vey show­ing that more than 80 per­cent of adult smok­ers had their first cig­a­rette be­fore age 18 and al­most 95 said they started smok­ing be­fore age 21.

The group, which re­ceives fund­ing from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, said high school smok­ing de­creased by 47 per­cent in Need­ham, Mas­sachusetts, af­ter the town raised the min­i­mum le­gal sales age to 21.

Crit­ics of the mea­sures point out that teen smok­ing rates are al­ready de­clin­ing. A CDC re­port says rates of teen smok­ing dropped by 15.8 per­cent from 2011 to 2016 and va­p­ing rates dropped for the first time last year.

A 2015 In­sti­tute of Medicine study found that the Need­ham ex­am­ple had no base­line data and that there are “no pub­lished data on th­ese out­comes,” ac­cord­ing to Rea­son.org.

Ad­vo­cates of rais­ing the le­gal sales age point to long-term cost sav­ings on health care from hav­ing fewer adult smok­ers, but fis­cal fore­casts for Maine, New Jersey and Ore­gon es­ti­mate that the bud­gets will lose mil­lions of dol­lars in the short run be­cause they will have less tax rev­enue from to­bacco sales.

“[C]loser scru­tiny sug­gests that th­ese prom­ises are spec­u­la­tive at best — and that the im­me­di­ate fis­cal con­se­quences of the change will put more strain, not less, on bud­gets,” Chris­tian Britschgi, as­sis­tant ed­i­tor at Rea­son, said in a July 25 anal­y­sis.

Re­searchers at the Cato In­sti­tute and the Democ­racy In­sti­tute ar­gued dur­ing the 2013 New York City de­bate that none of the ev­i­dence on why teens take up smok­ing re­lated to the le­gal buy­ing age.

They cited a ground­break­ing 1992 Bri­tish study, “Why Chil­dren Start Smok­ing Cig­a­rettes,” that listed fac­tors such as peer pres­sure, hav­ing par­ents or sib­lings who smoke, liv­ing with a sin­gle par­ent, and drop­ping out of school by 16.

The re­searchers said most teen smok­ers “ex­per­i­ment with sin­gle cig­a­rettes, not pack­aged cig­a­rettes. They be­come smok­ers long be­fore they ever buy a pack. A teen’s first pur­chase de­ci­sion isn’t about be­com­ing a smoker, but rather about which brand to smoke.”

Sim­i­lar bills in­tro­duced this year in 10 states ei­ther were de­feated or died be­fore the end of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of To­bacco Out­lets.

Ore­gon House Rep. Cedric Hayden, a Repub­li­can, said in a state­ment that he voted against rais­ing the to­bacco pur­chas­ing age over a host of con­cerns, in­clud­ing doubts about the mea­sure’s ef­fi­cacy, cut­backs to state pro­grams from the loss of ex­cise tax rev­enue and the hit to jobs from small busi­nesses forced to lay off work­ers younger than 21.

The fo­cus should be on ed­u­ca­tion, not “puni­tive ci­ta­tion,” said Mr. Hayden, a den­tist.

Un­der the Ore­gon law, which takes ef­fect Jan. 1, fines will be levied against ven­dors, not buy­ers, start­ing at $50 and climb­ing to $1,000 af­ter mul­ti­ple of­fenses.

State Rep. Paul Davis, the Maine Repub­li­can who spon­sored the to­bacco bill, wasn’t con­vinced by the gov­er­nor’s ar­gu­ment about 18-year-olds be­ing able to serve in the mil­i­tary but not be­ing able to buy cig­a­rettes.

“Peo­ple who join the mil­i­tary don’t have 15-year-old kids fol­low­ing them around and be­ing im­pressed by their ac­tions,” Mr. Davis told WTMW-TV. “It’s about the avail­abil­ity of cig­a­rettes in schools.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Hawaii be­came the first state to raise the min­i­mum le­gal sales age for to­bacco prod­ucts in June 2015, fol­lowed by Cal­i­for­nia in May 2016.

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