Leaders from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics congratulated the Senate Health and Welfare committee last week for their unanimously voting “yes” on legislation aimed at saving lives and money by reducing tobacco use in the state.
S.88 would raise the sale age of tobacco products from 18 to 21. The vast majority of adult smokers—95%—started smoking before turning 21. Raising the age to 21 will help prevent high school kids from buying and distributing cigarettes and other tobacco products including e-cigarettes.
“Passing this legislation today is a strong commitment by the committee to protect the health of Vermont’s children and sends a message that we need to do all that we can to prevent future, addicted life-long smokers,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, Director of Advocacy for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Northeast Region. “We all have an obligation to protect kids by enacting policies that help ensure their health, and we are grateful to members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for their thoughtful deliberation.”
In Vermont, nearly 11% of high schoolers (3,700 kids) and 16% of adults (more than 80,000 people) smoke. Alarmingly, 25% of Vermont youth use some form of tobacco product. Preventing teens from starting to use tobacco is critical.
There are 10,000 kids currently under 18 in Vermont who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking – unless we take bold action.
“Every day in my 30 years of caring for cancer patients I have seen patients with smoking related cancers, curable and non-curable, many who continue to smoke because the addictive power of nicotine is too powerful,” said Dr. Daniel Fram, Medical Director, National Life Cancer Treatment Center at the Central Vermont Medical Center. “I am currently treating a woman in her 70’s who is a former smoker with a lung cancer the diameter of a baseball. She is not a candidate for aggressive treatment due to her emphysema and heart disease (also smoking related). I am also treating two tongue cancer patients who require chemotherapy and radiation after partial tongue removing surgery. One is a current smoker (60’s) and the other a former smoker (50’s). Speech and swallowing are forever altered in such patients.”
For patients like Marie Sadler, the consequences of smoking are an all-too-familiar story. Marie began smoking in junior high school. She smoked for 50 years and was forced to stop when it was almost too late. She was diagnosed with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is now on oxygen day and night.
“One day I found myself literally unable to breathe. I was gasping for air. It was the most frightening experience I’ve ever had,” said Sadler. “It’s taken such a toll on my life. I used to be a fitness instructor. If I could turn back time I would never start smoking. I hope our legislators will take action and do the right thing by preventing other teenagers from ever starting.”
Smoking kills 1,000 Vermonters every year.