90% of smokers start before they turn 18. Will this legislation help?
On Aug. 9, Oregon became the fifth state to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21.
Oregon has been at the forefront of tobacco cessation and prevention programs for more than 20 years. A 1996 voter-approved tobacco taxation and prevention initiative has prevented an estimated 31,000 Oregon children from picking up the habit, and cigarette use has declined by more than 50% in the state.
The latest tobacco bill, signed by Governor Kate Brown, will continue to build on these efforts, prohibiting the sale and use of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and tobacco products to people under the age of 21.
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Oregon joins California, Hawaii, Washington, D.C., Maine, and New Jersey in raising the legal age for tobacco use to 21.
Like Oregon, Maine and New Jersey raised the tobacco age to 21 this summer. The Maine legislature successfully overrode the veto of Governor Paul LePage to turn the bill into law on Aug. 2. While New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed the bipartisan bill July 21.
In a statement, Christie cited his mother's death from the effects of smoking and hoped the measure would keep young people from ever starting the addictive habit.
"By raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21, we are giving young people more time to develop a maturity and better understanding of how dangerous smoking can be and that it is better to not start smoking in the first place,” he wrote.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images.
While only five states and D.C. have raised the tobacco age so far, many cities and states are considering the measure.
After nearly 10 years of trying, a bill in Texas to raise the tobacco age has bipartisan support and positive momentum. Efforts in Utah, Massachusetts, and Washington state are similarly underway after several fits and starts.
Since statewide measures are time consuming and difficult, 200 cities and towns have taken the step to raise the tobacco age on their own, including Chicago, New York City, Kansas City, and Boston.
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Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000, or 1 in 5, deaths in the U.S. each year.
Measures like these are truly a matter of life and death. Smoking causes a majority of the cases of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and it significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancer. It can affect fertility and smoking, while pregnant can result in stillbirth or low birth weight.
Each day, more than 3,200 people under 18 try their first cigarette. If current patterns persist, 5.6 million Americans currently under the age of 18 will ultimately die from a smoking-related illness.
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Something has got to give.
Since 99% of smokers have their first cigarette by 26, (90% before 18), raising the legal tobacco age is an important step toward keeping the next generation healthy and tobacco-free.
Hawaii, California, Maine, New Jersey, and Oregon are leading the way. Make sure your city government and state legislature are working to join them.
Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images.