In response to the American Lung Association’s recent “State of Tobacco Control” Report 2017, the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) today gathered with state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), at the State Capitol to call on the state to immediately pass “Tobacco 21” legislation, raising the age of sale of tobacco products to 21. Both Savino and Rosenthal have introduced legislation to the Senate (S3978) and Assembly (A273).
“The key to reducing the number of citizens who smoke is to prevent initiation of tobacco use in the first place,” said Senator Diane Savino. “Delaying children and young adults access to tobacco products will reduce the likelihood that they ever start smoking. Raising the smoking age to twenty-one will largely remove cigarettes from high schools and will help eliminate a popular source of tobacco for children and young adults. This legislation will help prevent a generation of New Yorkers from becoming addicted to smoking, and we can ultimately save thousands of lives.”
“Every year tobacco ensnares tens of thousands of young New Yorkers in its death grip,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “The statistics that surround youth tobacco use though, are not our fate. I am proud to have reintroduced legislation to increase the purchasing age for tobacco products across New York State from 18 to 21. With incredible partners like the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, we have a real chance to protect generations to come.”
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 New York State. According to a 2015 report from the National Academy of Medicine, raising the tobacco age to 21 nationwide would prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer, the nation’s leading cancer killer.
“More than 1 in 4 high school students in the state of New York currently use tobacco products,” said Jeff Seyler, President and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “This year’s State of Tobacco Control Report card gave New York State a “D” due to its failure to pass a statewide Tobacco 21 law. We know that increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21 will not only give New York an A grade in this category, but more importantly it will significantly reduce youth tobacco use, long term addiction, and save thousands of lives.”
Every day, nationally, about 2,500 youth under 18 try their first cigarette and 400 kids become regular daily smokers. Two-thirds of 10th grade students and nearly half of 8th grade students say it is easy to get cigarettes. According to a National Academy of Medicine report, smokers age 18-19 years old are a major supplier for younger kids who rely on friends, classmates and peers to buy tobacco products. A comprehensive statewide law raising the age of sale would help reduce the number of high school students who have easy access to tobacco products because they would be less likely to have legal buyers ages 21 and older in their social networks.
Julie Hart, director of New York government relations of ACS CAN said, “Given that about 95 percent of smokers started before the age of 21, it is imperative to take action to help our young New Yorkers. Tobacco 21 is a promising strategy and could stop kids before they begin a deadly tobacco addiction, thereby saving lives and health care costs.”
“Smoking is a leading cause of heart disease, the No. 1 killer of all Americans,” said Dr. Suzie Mookherjee, cardiologist and member of the Founders Affiliate Board of Directors for the American Heart Association. “If a person doesn’t start smoking before they are 21, the chance that they will ever start decreases dramatically. This is a deadly habit that costs New Yorkers $16 billion per year. I urge the state Legislature to protect our youth by passing Tobacco 21 across the state. It is up to us to save young lives.”
“Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will prevent young people from using tobacco, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, Northeast Regional Director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “This proposal will reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults – age groups when nearly all tobacco use begins and that are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. It will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students.”
“Every day as you leave Burnt Hills High School, will see a group of kids across the road in the church parking lot smoking,” said Conner McClernan, senior at Burnt Hills High School and member of Reality Check, a youth-led movement that helps fight back against tobacco. “We’re no longer talking about just numbers on a piece of paper or spreadsheet. It is the kids you’ve had pictures of on your mantles since the day they were born.”
While several localities in New York acted to pass local legislation raising the age of sale to 21 in 2016, New York State earned a nearly failing grade of “D” in the Tobacco 21 category of the report for failing to pass comprehensive statewide legislation to keep tobacco out of the hands of young adults. This year’s State of Tobacco Control Report revealed that 28.8% of high school students in the state use at least one tobacco product. The report also concluded that over $10 billion was spent on health care costs due to smoking in New York and 28,170 New Yorkers lost their lives to tobacco.