East Hawaii News

Tobacco Study May Boost Efforts to Raise Sale Age

March 12, 2015, 9:39 AM HST
* Updated March 12, 9:40 AM
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Hawai’i health advocates say a new scientific study by the Institute of Medicine, which concludes that increasing the legal tobacco sale age to 21, would have a substantial positive impact on public health, giving efforts in the state to raise the age “a real boost.”

Bills have passed in both of the state’s House and Senate chambers, and those bills have now crossed over.

In Hawai’i alone, officials say that tobacco claims 1,400 lives and costs the state $526 million in health care costs every year. The number of high school students in the state who smoke is reportedly 10.4 percent.

IOM’s report found that if the legal age was changed to 21, the number of adolescents and young adults who begin smoking would be reduced. The reduction in those who begin smoking would lower smoking-caused deaths and improve the health of adolescents immediately. Other positive impact would include young adults and young mothers being deterred from smoking, as well as their children.

The report found that the largest difference in the increased tobacco sale age would be for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 who would no longer be able to pass for the legal age.

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“Cities and counties in seven states – 49 laws and ordinances total – have passed legislation to raise the age of sale of tobacco to 21, including Hawai’i County,” said Jessica Yamauchi, Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii’s executive director. “Hawai’i has the opportunity to be the first state to pass groundbreaking legislation that will protect our youth and help create a tobacco-free generation.”

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According to the IOM report, it is predicted that raising the minimum age for the sale of tobacco products to 21 will reduce the smoking rate by 12 percent, in addition to decreasing smoking related deaths by 10 percent.

Ninety-five percent of adult smokers, according to national data, began smoking before they turned 21. Officials say that the ages of 18 to 21 are a critical period when many smokers move from experimenting with smoking to becoming regular, daily users. Officials also believe that the increase in tobacco sale age will assist in preventing young adults from beginning to smoke at all. It will also assist in countering the tobacco industry’s glamorization of tobacco use.

“In addition to high tobacco taxes, comprehensive smoke-free laws, and comprehensive tobacco control and prevention programs, increasing the minimum legal sale age for tobacco products from 18 to 21 has emerged as another policy strategy to reduce youth tobacco use and help users quit,” said Don Weisman, Hawai’i Government Relations Director, American Heart Association.

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Every year, 480,000 people die in the United States from tobacco use, which remains the leading cause of preventable death. Use of tobacco can cause cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease, among others. The United States spends over $170 billion on tobacco related expenditures each year. IOM warns that if the trend were to continue, 5.6 million youth today will die from smoking related illnesses.

As the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, IOM is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of the government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to both decision makers and the public.

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