AUGUSTA – Nearly one year ago, Maine became the fourth state in the nation to raise the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21. Starting this weekend, that law – which also applies to electronic cigarettes – will go into effect, prohibiting sales of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 21, unless the person is 18 years of age as of July 1, 2018. This legislation received strong bipartisan support and was passed by a more than two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature to override the Governor’s veto.
Long-time champions of this law, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) and the American Heart Association (AHA) are issuing a reminder to retailers and consumers about the far-reaching public health benefits of this law’s implementation. They also caution that a proactive focus on retailer education and compliance will be critical to its immediate success.
“The ages of 18 to 21 are a critical period when many people who smoke move from experimental smoking to regular, daily use,” said Hilary Schneider, director of government relations for ACS CAN in Maine. “Adolescents’ brains are more susceptible to the effects of nicotine and nicotine addiction. Delaying the age when young people first experiment with or begin using tobacco can reduce the risk that they will become addicted – and this reduces the likelihood they will develop many serious diseases, including cancer. Simply put, we need this law to help save lives.”
Tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death nationally and in Maine. An estimated 2,400 Maine adults die every year as a result of their own smoking, and there are an estimated 27,000 kids under the age of 18 in Maine right now who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking. Ninety-five percent of adults who smoke start before they turn 21. Raising the minimum age for sale of all tobacco products to 21 with strong retailer compliance and active enforcement can be one part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce youth initiation and prevent deadly tobacco addictions.
“Eighty percent of youth who smoke will become adults who smoke and one half of adults who smoke will die prematurely from tobacco related disease,” said Becky Smith, director of government relations for the AHA in Maine. “Most teens who smoke and use tobacco report getting cigarettes and other products from their friends. Reducing youth access to tobacco will reduce use – which will not only save lives, but will also save the state in healthcare dollars.”
Healthcare costs in Maine directly caused by smoking have been estimated to total $811 million annually. Of this number, $261.6 million is covered by the state Medicaid program.
“Governor LePage’s opposition to this popular proposal has hindered efforts over the past year to educate the public and has caused unnecessary confusion among retailers,” continued Smith. “We are eager to work together with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other state agencies to ensure smooth implementation starting on July 1.”