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EDITORIAL: Raise state's legal tobacco age to 21
The Citizens' Voice - 4/20/2019
April 20-- Apr. 20--Even though the fight to reduce smoking is one of the most successful public health projects in U.S. history, smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death and illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking kills 400,000 Americans every year, including 22,000 in Pennsylvania.
The economic costs also are staggering. The CDC reports that treatment of tobacco-related illnesses in Pennsylvania costs $6.4 billion a year, and that tobacco-caused death and disability costs another $5.3 billion in lost productivity.
Like all other states, Pennsylvania gradually has established a series of laws and regulations that have helped to diminish smoking. Smoking has been banned in most public places, but this being Pennsylvania, there are exceptions for narrow special interests, especially casinos. The state cigarette tax, $2.60 a pack, is the nation's 11th highest.
Unlike other states, Pennsylvania does not require insurers to cover smoking-cessation medications.
Lawmakers could further reduce smoking and improve public health by tightening up the laws and forsaking special interests. And it could strike a major blow by following the lead of other nearby states.
New Jersey and Delaware recently have raised, from 18 to 21, the legal age for tobacco use. Legislatures in New York and Maryland have passed increases that await gubernatorial signatures to become law. Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington also have raised the legal tobacco-use age to 21, along with 450 cities and counties in other states.
Abundant experience has shown that 95 percent of smokers get hooked before they are 21, and that very few people begin to smoke after their 21st birthday.
Raising the tobacco-use age to 21 is the single most effective weapon available to lawmakers to further reduce smoking and other forms of tobacco use. They should seize the opportunity. Even though the state would lose some tobacco tax revenue by doing so, that would be more than offset by lifetime savings in health care and productivity costs.
(c)2019 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)
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