Will Legislators pick the side of Public Health or Tobacco and E-cigarette Interests?
With the clock ticking on the New York State legislative session, groups representing children, public health organizations and medical professionals have joined forces to kick off a campaign calling on both houses of the state legislature to “Pick a Side” on the issues of e-cigarettes and raising the age for the sale of tobacco products to 21. Will the legislators and their leaders be on the side of public health and kids? Or on the side of e-cigarette and tobacco companies?
Over 20 percent of high school students in New York now report using e-cigarettes yet the New York State Senate continues to stall on legislation (S2543) to add e-cigarettes to the Clean Indoor Air Act. In addition, 15.2 percent of adults are still smoking and the advocates are urging passage of legislation (S3978/A273) that would raise the age for the sale of tobacco products to 21 (Tobacco 21).
The New York State Assembly has already passed the e-cigarette loophole bill three times. The groups are asking Senate Leadership to decide if they will be on the side of children and public health or be on the side of tobacco and e-cigarette companies by holding up the bill and putting the health and lives of their constituents at risk. Members of both houses of the legislature are also being asked if they will be on the side of tobacco companies or protecting the public’s health when they decide on the Tobacco 21 legislation. Approximately 95 percent of adults who smoke started before the age of 21. A report by the Institute of Medicine predicts raising the national minimum age for the sale of tobacco products to 21 will likely lead to a 12 percent reduction in smoking prevalence.
As part of the “Pick a Side” campaign, volunteers from numerous organizations will be contacting their lawmakers by, among other methods:
- Dropping off hundreds of petitions in support to member offices.
- Phone calls to targeted legislators.
- Calling on their legislators on social media to take a stand.
New York State expanded the Clean Indoor Air Act in 2003 to include all indoor workplaces.
E-cigarettes were not included as the products didn’t exist at that time. Now that these products are widely used, the Clean Indoor Air Act must be amended through this legislation to ensure the air that children, families and workers breathe in public places is clean.
“It’s unbelievable that Big Tobacco and e-cigarette companies hold such power in New York. Tobacco and e-cigarette companies are benefiting at the expense of our kids. It’s time for senators to put kids and the public’s health before e-cigarette company profits,” said Julie Hart, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) New York director of government relations.
“Smoking is one of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke. It’s imperative that the state Legislature prevent kids from picking up this deadly habit by raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21. E-cigarettes are currently the most common nicotine product used by high school and middle school kids, and we must close the e-cigarette loophole by including those products in the Clean Indoor Air Act. Passing both pieces of legislation also protects bystanders – who have chosen to avoid smoking and all tobacco products – from the contents and health consequences of all tobacco products,” said Kristin Salvi, Government Relations Director for New York State for the American Heart Association.”
“The importance of closing the loophole in New York’s smoke-free air law cannot be overstated. New York’s smoke-free law was a monumental measure to protect our kids when it was passed over a decade ago. To continue that success, the law must be modernized to reflect the vast increase in e-cigarette usage. All New Yorkers deserve the right to breathe clean air, the Senate must act,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.
“Including electronic cigarettes in the state’s Clean Indoor Air law will further the fundamental purpose of the law – to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air in workplaces and public places. New York’s comprehensive smoke-free law covering all restaurants, bars and other workplaces, has been in effect since 2003. We need to prevent e-cigarettes from undermining this important public health protection. Smoke-free laws create an environment that encourages smokers to quit and discourages kids from smoking. This legislation will preserve these benefits,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, Director of Advocacy, Northeast Region, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
“These are common-sense policies, supported by evidence, that will advance public health and benefit both individuals and communities We have a significant opportunity to save lives by reducing tobacco use, particularly among children, and to ensure that everyone can breathe clean air in public spaces,” said Andrew Hyland, PhD, chair of the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
“We know that approximately 90 percent of addicted adult smokers experimented with or began smoking before age 18. We also know that tobacco companies spend millions of dollars marketing their products in stores that children and teens frequent. Raising the age of purchase of tobacco products to 21 makes it less likely that our youth will become addicted to nicotine. This change in the law is an evidence based prevention strategy that works and we need to implement it statewide, now,” said Carol M. Smith, M.D., M.P.H., President, New York State Association of County Health Officials.
“We support every effort to reduce young people’s access to tobacco products, and every initiative to reduce their exposure to second hand smoke. Therefore, we call upon the State Senate to pass legislation adding e-cigarettes to the Indoor Air Act now. In addition, we call upon the legislature to pass Tobacco 21 before this session ends. Any delay in moving this vital public health initiative forward increases life time health risks to more and more young people who start smoking as teens and suffer significant health complications as adults. There is no defense for the tobacco industry in New York, our children should come first!” said Elie Ward, Director of Policy & Advocacy NYS American Academy of Pediatrics.
“There are numerous and well documented dangers to using tobacco including electronic cigarettes at any age and all the dangers are increased when use begins before adulthood. Given the known toxins, chemicals and metals in electronic cigarettes, we must take immediate action to include them in the state’s clean indoor air law to ensure that children, pregnant women, workers and others are not exposed to their aerosols in public places. Also since the drinking age was raised from 18 to 21 there have been national decreases in overall consumption of alcohol, drunk driving, and motor vehicle accidents among young people, serving as further evidence that a similar law for tobacco products would be just as successful. Family Physicians throughout the state urge our senators to do the right thing and pass this legislation this session,” said Robert Ostrander, MD, President of New York State Association Family Physicians.
“Eleven out of 58 counties in New York State have adopted the Tobacco 21 ordinance. We urge the legislators to follow Hawaii, and California, who have already passed state-wide Tobacco 21 laws. Adding Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) to the Clean Indoor Air Act is the next logical step to maintain the health of our constituents,” said Susan M. Franko, PhD, RRT, President, New York State Public Health Association.
Legislation to close the e-cigarette loophole has already been passed and enacted in eight New York State Counties and New York City as well as 10 states. Tobacco 21 laws have already been enacted in New York City as well as nine other counties and two localities.
The United States Surgeon General reported that youth use of nicotine in any form, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe. Studies have concluded that e-cigarette aerosol is not harmless and it is not merely water vapor. E-cigarette aerosol contains fine particles of liquid, solids like harmful metals, or both. One study found up to 31 constituents in the aerosol, including nicotine, acetaldehyde, and diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease.
The e-cigarette loophole legislation will protect New Yorkers from secondhand exposure to nicotine and other known toxins found in e-cigarette aerosol. It will also help ensure that the public health benefits of smoke-free laws are not undermined.