Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Aug. 9 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon today became the fifth state to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 as Gov. Kate Brown signed the measure into law. The legislature approved the bill last month. In taking this bold step, Oregon will prevent young people from starting to use tobacco, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free. We applaud Gov. Brown and the lawmakers who supported this legislation for their strong leadership in fighting tobacco use, the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States.
Oregon’s action provides another major boost for the growing, nationwide movement to increase the tobacco age to 21. Tobacco 21 laws have also been enacted by California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and at least 255 cities and counties, including New York City, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, St. Louis and both Kansas Cities. Massachusetts lawmakers should quickly approve similar legislation pending there.
Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults – age groups when nearly all tobacco use begins and that are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. We know that about 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. Increasing the tobacco age will help counter the industry’s efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. This legislation will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students.
A 2015 report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) concluded that increasing the tobacco age to 21 will significantly reduce the number of adolescents and young adults who start smoking, with immediate and long-term benefits for the nation’s health.
Tobacco use kills over 480,000 Americans and costs the nation about $170 billion in health care bills each year. In Oregon, tobacco kills over 5,500 people and costs over $1.5 billion in health care expenses each year. Without additional action to reduce tobacco use, 68,000 kids alive today in Oregon will die prematurely from smoking. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 is a critical step in reducing and eventually eliminating tobacco’s terrible toll.