To­bacco 21 is the right choice for Penn­syl­va­nia

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE -

State se­na­tors have passed a mea­sure to raise the min­i­mum age for pur­chas­ing cig­a­rettes to 21, up from 18.

When mem­bers of the state House return to ses­sion this month, af­ter nearly a full month out of Harrisburg, they should get to work on a mea­sure that could save lives in Penn­syl­va­nia.

Be­fore leav­ing for their own long break from the Capi­tol, state se­na­tors passed a mea­sure that would raise the min­i­mum age for pur­chas­ing cig­a­rettes to 21, up from 18.

Al­ready the law in 12 states — in­clud­ing Delaware and New Jer­sey — and set to take ef­fect soon in Mary­land, New York and four other states, To­bacco 21 is aimed at pre­vent­ing a bad habit from get­ting started.

A 2015 study by the Na­tional Academy of Sciences’ In­sti­tute of Medicine found that the change would mean:

— 223,000 fewer deaths among Amer­i­cans born be­tween 2000 and 2019, in­clud­ing 50,000 fewer lung can­cer fa­tal­i­ties.

— A cut in to­bacco use by 12% among teenagers and 10% fewer smok­ing-re­lated deaths among them.

— A 25% drop in the num­ber of 15- through 17-yearolds start­ing the dan­ger­ous habit of smok­ing and a drop of 15% among those ages 18 through 20.

The vote in the Se­nate was 43-6 to raise the age to 21.

To give op­po­nents their due, the best line in the de­bate was by Sen. Gene Yaw, a Ly­coming County Repub­li­can who voted “no.”

“Ap­par­ently,” he said, ac­cord­ing to a re­port, “it takes less in­tel­li­gence to vote for a state sen­a­tor than it does to buy cig­a­rettes.”

A ver­sion of Yaw’s ar­gu­ment was a theme among the bill’s op­po­nents: If 18-year-olds can be drafted and vote, why can’t they buy a pack of cig­a­rettes?

It should be noted that this logic does not ex­tend to al­co­hol, and for the same rea­son ad­vo­cates are urg­ing To­bacco 21: pro­tect­ing pub­lic health.

As the Amer­i­can Lung As­so­ci­a­tion notes, “To­bacco use is the lead­ing cause of pre­ventable death and dis­ease in the U.S. and in­creas­ing the sales age for to­bacco prod­ucts could have a big im­pact on youth to­bacco use in Penn­syl­va­nia and across the na­tion.”

The idea be­hind To­bacco 21 is that 18-year-olds who can now pur­chase cig­a­rettes, some still in high school, hang around with younger teens than does your typ­i­cal 21-year-old.

So rais­ing the age to 21 would not only likely help cut smok­ing among those ages 18 through 20.

It would also close one door to younger teens get­ting cig­a­rettes from their 18-year-old class­mates. To­bacco is a proven killer. It is the lead­ing cause of lung can­cer, the dead­li­est form of the dis­ease.

Be­sides caus­ing lung can­cer, it can prompt or worsen res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions and asthma.

And ado­les­cents and young adults are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to the ef­fects of nico­tine and nico­tine ad­dic­tion; it causes last­ing, ad­verse con­se­quences on their brain devel­op­ment.

“We know,” Sarah Lawver, di­rec­tor of ad­vo­cacy for the Amer­i­can Lung As­so­ci­a­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia, said in a news re­lease, “that about 95% of smok­ers try their first cig­a­rette be­fore age 21, and many to­bacco users tran­si­tion from ex­per­i­ment­ing to reg­u­lar to­bacco use be­tween the ages of 18 and 21. …

“This bill is an im­por­tant mea­sure in help­ing to save the lives of Penn­syl­va­nia youth.”

Ac­cord­ing to the as­so­ci­a­tion:

Ev­ery day, close to 2,500 young peo­ple un­der 18 try their first cig­a­rette and more than 400 kids be­come reg­u­lar daily smok­ers.

Two-thirds of 10th grade stu­dents and nearly half of eighth grade stu­dents say it is easy to get cig­a­rettes.

And, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Academy of Medicine re­port, younger kids of­ten rely on older friends, class­mates and peers to buy to­bacco prod­ucts for them.

The state House should fol­low the Se­nate’s lead and raise the age to pur­chase to­bacco prod­ucts in Penn­syl­va­nia to 21.

And Gov. Tom Wolf should sign it into law.

It’s a chance to save lives by re­duc­ing a free­dom that, as the med­i­cal ev­i­dence demon­strates, is a deadly op­tion.

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