Despite widespread support for a proposal to raise the smoking age to 21 in Indiana, the measure stalled in the recently-concluded legislative session.
Here’s hoping that a bipartisan bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Todd Young — which would accomplish this goal nationally — succeeds.
The Tobacco to 21 Act would prohibit the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21. Young noted in a recent phone interview that public health experts call the move an “incredibly impactful policy change.”
Such action is sorely needed in the Hoosier state, where more than 1 in 5 Hoosier adults smoke cigarettes and where tobacco-related illnesses kill more than 11,000 Indiana residents each year. In addition to the human costs, there is the $2.93 billion in annual health care costs and the $3.17 billion productivity losses tied to smoking.
Young’s bill also targets what he calls the “alarming rate” of teen-age use of vaping products. Among high school students nationally, usage increased 78%, from 11.7% in 2017 to 20.8% in 2018, according to U.S.Surgeon General Jerome Adams, formerly Indiana state health commissioner.
The Institute of Medicine says raising the minimum legal age of sale of tobacco products nationwide would result in 223,000 fewer premature deaths and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost for those born between 2000 and 2019. It would also reduce tobacco initiation among youth and lead to a 12% decrease in smoking prevalence.
The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; and Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
Young says he believes that this issue is best addressed at the federal level. Doing so in piecemeal, state-by-state fashion encourages vendors in states that haven’t raised the smoking age to set up shop near the border of states that have raised the age, “essentially rendering the policy much less effective,” he says.
Public health groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and American Heart Association, support the Tobacco to 21 Act. Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that “As 95 percent of adult smokers start smoking before turning 21, this legislation will help prevent young people from using tobacco and save lives.”
In a state that has been devastated by the effects of tobacco, the Tobacco to 21 Act sounds like part of the solution.