Tobacco 21 is the right choice for Pennsylvania
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 Pennlive.com 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.