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Tobacco-Free Living

Posted on: December 20, 2019

Federal Tobacco 21 legislation likely an important "floor-level" protection for youth

T21 Lawrence

With Congress electing to include raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 to purchase all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, those who have worked on local Tobacco 21 policies said the development at the federal level is significant and that they will be monitoring its specific details.

According to national news reports, President Donald Trump was expected to sign into law the policy change as part of a broader year-end spending bill, and the new age restrictions for purchasing would take place in September.

“We are thrilled that this step has been taken at the federal level to establish a floor-level protection of our young people from tobacco use and exposure,” said Vicki Collie-Akers, past chair of the LiveWell Douglas County Tobacco-Free Living Workgroup. “This is a critical development that is responsive to issues that we know are present here in Lawrence and Douglas County, as well as communities across the nation. We look forward to having an opportunity to review the adopted policy to assure it contains features that will make it most likely to have the impact that is needed.”

Members of the Douglas County Commission in 2018 adopted a Tobacco 21 ordinance, and elected leaders in other cities in Douglas County, including with the Lawrence City Commission, have been considering legislation within their own jurisdictions after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled last summer that the policy did not conflict with the Kansas Constitution.

Public health advocates, including with the Health Department and LiveWell Douglas County, have pointed to Tobacco 21 policies as a key measure to help address tobacco-use, including the use of vaping and e-cigarettes, among youth, especially because 18-year-old teenagers could easily supply tobacco to those younger than them. Data show that the issue of students vaping and e-cigarettes has become particularly problematic in recent years, but Tobacco 21 laws can help curb the epidemic.

• As of 2019, nearly 50% of Kansas high school students have ever tried e-cigarettes, and almost 1 in 5 have used e-cigarettes within the past 30 days. (KDHE YRBS, 2019)
• Nationally, e-cigarette use rose from 11.5% in 2017 to 27.58% in 2019.
• 90 percent of lifelong tobacco users initiate tobacco use before age 21.
• Communities that passed Tobacco 21 policies have documented decreases in youth smoking rates by up to 50 percent.
• 24 cities and counties in Kansas have already passed Tobacco 21.

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