DAMASCUS - Local high school students, public health groups and legislative representatives marked the American Cancer Society’s 42nd annual Great American Smokeout today by calling on lawmakers to protect the health of Maryland residents by passing strong tobacco control legislation. Only by tackling tobacco use through a comprehensive approach can we effectively overcome the country’s tobacco epidemic and prevent the more than 480,000 deaths each year caused by tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.
The coalition of advocates, including a local cardiologist and public policy experts from across the state, called on lawmakers to raise the tobacco sales age in Maryland from 18 to 21. This legislation – to be introduced during Maryland’s 2018 legislative session – aims to address the fact that about 95 percent of adults who smoke started before they were 21.
Currently, there are over 26,800 Maryland high school students who are smokers and every year an additional 2,200 Maryland youth under the age of 18 become daily smokers. At this rate 92,000 youth alive today will die prematurely from smoking.
“I’ve seen my classmates tempted by tobacco use when they see older teens smoking” said Chloe Eoyang, a Richard Montgomery High School senior. “Raising the tobacco sales age to 21 will help protect me, my classmates, and future generations of Maryland kids from becoming victims of the tobacco industry’s targeting, and save them from a lifetime of tobacco related addiction and disease.”
“As a teacher who has worked with children and young adults for 19 years, I see first-hand that they don’t understand the impact of what smoking will really do to their bodies and the risks of tobacco use. We need to take responsibility as adults and make things right by raising the tobacco sales age to 21.” said LUNG FORCE Hero Michelle Young, a teacher in the Prince George’s County School District, who lost her mother to lung cancer.
Five states – California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and Oregon - have passed laws to increase the sales age for tobacco products to 21. As of October 10, 2017, at least 270 localities have raised the minimum legal sale age for tobacco products to 21.
“We know that many tobacco users transition from experimenting to regular tobacco use between the ages of 18 and 21, and that the vast majority of adult smokers are addicted before they turn 21,” said Deborah P. Brown, Executive Vice President, American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “This is a critical time to protect our youth and young adults from the dangers of tobacco use and nicotine addiction.”
“It is our responsibility to ensure that our policies promote children's health. While tobacco use has declined over the years, there is an opportunity to protect even more youngsters from beginning a risky habit that will haunt them for life,” said Delegate Marice Morales, who will co-sponsor the legislation when it is introduced.
The Society launched the Great American Smokeout 42 years ago as a platform to encourage smokers to quit. Since then, the program has expanded to not only encourage tobacco users to make a plan to quit, but also to encourage all Americans to advocate for comprehensive smoke-free laws, increased tobacco excise taxes and increased funding for evidence-based tobacco cessation programs. Raising the tobacco sales age can be a critical component to a comprehensive strategy to reduce initiation and lifelong tobacco addiction.
“Despite major advances in the past few years, progress has slowed in passing and implementing strong tobacco control policies and as a result, we’re seeing smoking rates begin to level off and use of other tobacco products rise nationwide,” said Bonita Pennino, Maryland director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). “The Society’s Great American Smokeout is about helping people quit, and we know that restricting sales of tobacco products to youth and young adults can help ensure that future generations of Marylanders avoid picking up this deadly addiction in the first place.”
The use of tobacco products remains the nation’s number one cause of preventable death, killing more than 480,000 Americans and costing $289 billion in health care costs and lost productivity annually. In Maryland, tobacco is responsible for 7,500 deaths each year.