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Federal law raising tobacco purchasing age to 21 will protect Oklahoma children

OKLAHOMA CITY (Dec. 24, 2019) — The executive director of the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) praised a new federal law that will raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 while also calling for more to be done to protect youth from a lifetime of nicotine addiction.

“This action by Congress is a good first step toward curbing youth access to tobacco and vaping products,” said Julie Bisbee, TSET executive director. “But this is only a first step. State and federal leaders can do more to protect Oklahoma youth through polices like restricting flavored products, passing a comprehensive clean indoor air law and devoting more resources to compliance checks of tobacco retailors.

On December 20, 2019, Congress passed a federal spending package that included a provision prohibiting the sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products to people under the age of 21. President Trump signed the measure into law that night. The provision, known as the Tobacco-Free Youth Act, would make it a violation of federal law to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.

Raising the minimum purchasing age is part of Tobacco Stops With Me’s 7-point plan to cut the adult smoking rate in half over the next decade. By increasing the age to purchase tobacco, it cuts off the main pipeline for underage tobacco access from 18- to 20-year old peers. Preventing children and young adults from starting tobacco use is critical as 95% of users start before age 21.

According to a 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine, the passage of Tobacco 21 in the U.S. could prevent 223,000 premature deaths, prevent 50,000 deaths from lung cancer and reduce smoking prevalence by an additional 12%. In Oklahoma, 1,800 children and teens become daily smokers each year.

The Food and Drug Administration will update its regulations within 180 days to implement the Tobacco-Free Youth Act.

Bisbee stressed the need for increased enforcement of existing laws that prevent children under 18 from purchasing tobacco. 

“It is important that we understand the benefits of increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco and continue to enforce existing laws that protect children from purchasing tobacco,” Bisbee said. “As rule making moves forward at the federal level it will be important to avoid tobacco industry influence that has brought exemptions and other loopholes at the state level.”

With the surge of teen e-cigarette use, rising 78% from 2017 to 2018, adolescents are starting their tobacco use as early as 12 years old. In 2016, a national survey found that among youth and young adult e-cigarette users aged 13-25, more than half (55.9%) used another tobacco product in addition to e-cigarettes.

Nineteen states, as well as the District of Columbia, already have laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to people under the age of 21, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

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The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline is a free service for Oklahomans who want to quit tobacco. Funding is primarily provided by the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), in partnership with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline has served nearly 400,000 Oklahomans since 2003 and has been ranked among the top quitlines for reaching tobacco users seeking treatment for the last ten years by the North American Quitline Consortium.

The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) serves as a partner and bridge builder for organizations shaping a healthier future for all Oklahomans. TSET provides leadership at the intersections of health by working with local coalitions and initiatives across the state, cultivating innovative and life-changing research, and working across public and private sectors to develop, support, implement and evaluate creative strategies to take advantage of emerging opportunities to improve the public’s health.