Nearly all adult smokers, over 94 percent, had their first cigarette before turning 21, according to the American Lung Association.
A coalition of health advocacy groups, including the American Lung Association, American Cancer Association and American Heart Association have drafted a bill to raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21 from 18 in Kansas, in the hopes teens many never have that first cigarette.
Raising the tobacco age to 21 is a well-researched way to decrease youth smoking and save lives.
More than 20 local governments in Kansas have already banned the sale of cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, tobacco products and liquid nicotine to anyone under the age of 21 as well as barring anyone from buying products for someone younger than that age. Topeka is one of the most recent cities to raise the age, an ordinance that survived a legal challenge by a local smoke shop.
Cities argue that enforcement of local ordinances is a challenge when localities across the state maintain different minimum ages for tobacco purchase. A statewide law would help create consistent laws and enforcement across the state. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have already raised their age to 21 with policies likely similar to the drafted legislation in Kansas.
The National Academy of Medicine released a report in 2015 analyzing the nationwide impact of the minimum age was increased to 21. The study estimated tobacco use would decrease by 12 percent in the first decade and smoking-related deaths would decrease by 10 percent. The policy could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer.
Raising the minimum purchase age to 21 would reduce youth smoking in multiple ways. Making it illegal to purchase tobacco until 21 would decrease smoking initiation among 18- to 20-year-olds by an estimated 15 percent. It would also cut off a major source of tobacco for teens, who share schools and social contacts with 18-year-olds far more often than those over 21.
Smoking initiation would decline among 15- to 17-year-olds by an estimated 25 percent as a result of reduced access to products. Since research suggests initiating smoking as a teen has greater health implications and makes quitting harder later, any policy with a likelihood of reducing teen smoking is a positive step.
Banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 would make enforcement more effective across the state and reduce youth use of tobacco. It’s a smart step for Kansas.