The alarmingly high prevalence of tobacco product use among teenagers has caused Californian lawmakers such as Senator Ed Hernandez to consider increasing the legal smoking age in the state. As a result, he introduced legislation that would increase the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.
This new bill, SB 151, should limit the access that teenagers currently have to tobacco products. Senator Hernandez, who is an optometrist, explains that studies show how addiction to tobacco smoking is that much higher when users begin at young ages. The state, Hernandez added, can no longer afford the luxury of remaining on the sidelines and must confront large tobacco markets hell-bent on marketing their product to children and teenagers. As he sees it, tobacco companies should not be allowed to get
“another generation of young people hooked on a product that will ultimately kill them.”
Senator Hernandez’s vision is shared by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network Senior Director, Tim Gibbs. Gibbs explains that Big Tobacco is aware that a whopping 90% of current adult smokers took up the habit while still in their teens. Consequently, a bill that would change the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 would contribute to protecting our vulnerable teenagers from the tobacco industry’s predatory marketing strategies.
The state of California has always been among the leading US states to tackle tobacco use. In the 1990’s, it was among the first states to ban indoor smoking. A few years later, other legislation banned smoking in places such as casinos, bars or offices.
Approximately 40,000 Californians are killed yearly because of tobacco smoking, Kimberly Amazeen, the American Lung Assn. vice president notes. Yet the more alarming number is the number of Californian children who begin smoking yearly: 21,300. This is precisely the reason why, lawmakers believe, the legal smoking age should be reassessed and raised.
As with any controversial subject, there are those who would oppose such measures of course, arguing that most smokers begin much sooner than 18 and that additional legislation would not alter that behavior.
Giant tobacco firms, such as Altria, oppose these efforts of modifying the legal smoking age. Their argument is based on an FDA study currently underway, which is focused on evaluating the health implications of raising the minimum smoking age.
“We believe [that the state should] give the FDA, the IOM and others the time to review the science and evidence, before enacting different minimum age laws,”
Altria’s spokesman, David Sutton said.
Image Source: Rockefeller News
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