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Oregon Senates Passes Legislation to Raise Tobacco Sales Age to 21

Senate Bill 754 Now Heads to the Oregon House of Representatives

March 20, 2017

Salem, OR – March 20, 2017— The Tobacco 21 For Oregon coalition, led by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), applauds the Oregon Senate for passing legislation today that promises to curb smoking rates, protect kids from a deadly addiction, and save lives and money. 

Senate Bill 754, sponsored by state Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, would raise the legal sales age for all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, to 21. The bill now heads to the House. 

“I ran for office to make Oregon the healthiest state in the nation, and I am proud to stand with my colleagues in passing SB 754 out of the Senate today with bipartisan support,” said Sen. Steiner Hayward. “This bill will decrease youth smoking rates, decrease tobacco-related diseases and health care costs, and will improve public health. This is good policy for Oregonians.”
 
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Oregon, claiming the lives of roughly 5,500 Oregonians yearly. Each year, 1,800 Oregon kids become new daily smokers, and unless current smoking rates decline, 68,000 kids alive today in the state will eventually die from tobacco-related illnesses. 

“I commend the Oregon Senate for taking action on this important public health issue,” said Dr. Brian Druker, Director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. “Given everything we know about tobacco as a cancer-causing agent, we owe it to our children—and our society—to do all we can to prevent young people from using tobacco.”

Most adult smokers – 95 percent – begin this addiction before they turn 21. Raising the age of sale to 21 will help keep tobacco products out of high schools, where younger teens often get these products from older classmates. The Oregon Healthy Teens Survey finds nearly 24 percent of Oregon’s 11th graders currently use tobacco products, so preventing kids from starting is critical. 

“I applaud the Senate for passing this legislation and look forward to the opportunity to take a vote on SB 754 in the House,” said Representative Rich Vial, R-Sherwood.

Evidence suggests the adolescent brain is more susceptible to the addictive qualities of nicotine. Research by the U.S. Surgeon General indicates youth can become dependent on nicotine very rapidly and at lower levels of consumption than adults. 

A higher tobacco sales age will also help offset Big Tobacco’s relentless marketing. The tobacco industry preys on young adults ages 18 to 21 because they know it’s a critical period for nicotine addiction to take hold. The 18-21 age range is when most people transition from experimental tobacco use to regular, daily use. 

Tobacco use wreaks havoc on Oregon’s economy, costing the state nearly $3 billion in annual health care costs and lost work productivity. Smoking costs Oregon’s Medicaid program roughly $348 million annually and each Oregon household pays $788 in taxes to cover smoking-related government expenditures. 

Raising the legal sale age is popular with the public, including smokers. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of Americans – including seven in 10 current smokers – support the policy. A poll released by ACS CAN found that 64 percent of Oregonians support raising the tobacco age to 21.

If passed, Oregon would follow California and Hawaii in raising its tobacco sales age to 21. The policy has also passed in at least 210 cities and counties nationwide. Many other cities, counties and states, including Washington state, are considering it this year. 

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Tobacco 21 For Oregon is a statewide coalition led by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Oregon Health and Sciences University. The coalition is dedicated to creating Oregon’s first tobacco-free generation by raising the tobacco sales age to 21 to delay youth initiation of tobacco products and e-cigarettes. For more information, visit www.21fororegon.org 

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Noe Baker
Media Advocacy
Portland