By Sen. Brian Schatz
United States Senate, State of Hawai'i
With the help of organizations like AMCHP, our nation has come a long way in the fight to improve the health of infants and children. As we continue to make progress, I believe one of the next big fights will be to raise the minimum legal tobacco age of sale to 21. By raising the age, we can protect children and their families while saving millions of lives.
This year, my state of Hawai'i was the first to pass legislation, raising the minimum legal tobacco age of sale from 18 to 21. It was a proud day in our state, and I am confident that other states will follow our lead with the passage of time. But some states may be slow to the mark or may be beholden to tobacco interests. That is why we need a federal law raising the age of sale to 21 in every state across the nation. With the support of AMCHP, I have introduced legislation to do just that.
Right now, tobacco use is responsible for roughly half a million deaths each year and 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21. It is estimated that raising the smoking age to 21 would result in 200,000 fewer premature deaths, 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer, and more than 4 million more years of life for those born between 2000 and 2019. Those numbers are staggering and they tell me that we must raise the age of tobacco sale to 21 and we must do it now.
Our bill also is intended to help stop the growing epidemic of e-cigarettes by limiting the sales for those under 21. When it comes to e-cigarettes, we are seeing an explosion of use among middle and high schoolers. From 2013 to 2014, the use of e-cigarettes tripled among middle and high school students – from 780,000 to nearly 2.5 million students. We must stop this trend now.
The truth is that this issue is not complicated. Raising the tobacco age would help to reduce the chance of a young adult becoming addicted to tobacco and prevent young adults from exposing their friends, family, and potentially children to their addiction through secondhand smoke.
As we all know too well, progress does not always come easily. The tobacco companies are powerful and have lobbyists that will be fighting against this bill. That is why I want to thank AMCHP for supporting my bill and helping to build the grassroots support to get it passed.
Now is the time to stop the spread of tobacco use among our children. We have a solution; now all we need is the political will to make a change. We can and must protect our kids as they grow and develop. Our country has come a long way in the fight against tobacco, but we still have a long way to go.