Today is World No Tobacco Day, an annual event organized by the World Health Organization to highlight the dangers of tobacco use and to promote tobacco control policies that help prevent people from becoming addicted to these deadly products and to help those who are addicted to quit.
For more than a decade, ACS CAN has been working hard with its partners across the country and globally to reduce the significant health and fiscal toll tobacco takes worldwide, particularly on our youth. Tobacco use by young people can most effectively be reduced by passing and implementing proven tobacco control strategies including regular and significant tobacco tax increases, comprehensive smoke-free laws and funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Another powerful legislative approach to reduce youth access to tobacco is to increase the age at which someone can legally buy these products. Legislation to increase the legal tobacco purchasing age to 21 is becoming increasingly successful in the United States, with two state laws and 230 local ordinances having passed in just the last two years.
One victory I’m particularly proud of on this front is a hard-fought win in Guam to increase the age of sale of tobacco products.
This 2017 win was almost two years in the making. Despite setbacks along the way, ACS CAN’s commitment never wavered thanks to one of our fiercely dedicated volunteers – Guam’s Ambassador Constituent Lead Cathy Rivera Castro.
Cathy took the lead from day one when the first bill was introduced in early 2015 by then-Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz – a great champion for our cause. Cathy rallied her community and stakeholders to join ACS CAN’s efforts and secured meetings with all 15 members of the Guam Legislature, attended every day of the legislative session to keep a close eye on the bill and stood ready to speak up if she felt the effort was at risk.
The bill finally had its vote in June 2016; however, Guam’s governor vetoed it and the veto override attempt failed by just two votes.
Our team was undeterred. When a new bill was introduced in January of this year, Cathy went straight to work educating new lawmakers on the importance of this tobacco control strategy. Cathy worked with ACS CAN staff, partner organizations and volunteers across the island to demonstrate broad support for this bill. This time, the hard work paid off and The Youth Protection Action of 2017 will go into effect Jan. 1, 2018.
Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death nationwide, responsible for roughly one third of all cancer deaths. ACS CAN and our staff and volunteers will continue to prioritize working with lawmakers on the local, state and federal levels to reduce the use of this deadly product through evidence-based strategies such as raising the age of tobacco sales. We invite you to join in the fight.