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Health Organizations Support Rhode Island Bill That Would Raise Tobacco Sale Age to 21

The American Heart Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Lung Association, March of Dimes, RI Medical Society and American Academy of Pediatrics – RI Chapter are urging lawmakers to raise the minimum legal sale age for tobacco products to 21. 

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Our organizations support legislation recently introduced by Representative Teresa Tanzi (D-District 34-Narragansett, South Kingstown) and soon to be introduced by Senator Cynthia Coyne (D-District 32-Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) that would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 in Rhode Island. The Tobacco 21 Bill will reduce tobacco use among young people, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free.

Tell your legislators to support the Tobacco 21 Bill – click the following link to take action now: http://act.yourethecure.org/D6ijT5b

The need for bold action to further reduce tobacco use in the United States is clear. While we have made enormous progress, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in our country, killing almost half a million people and costing about $170 billion in health care expenses each year. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, if current trends continue, 5.6 million of today’s youth will die prematurely from smoking.

There are approximately 131,000 adult smokers in Rhode Island. Currently, 4.8 percent of Rhode Island high school students smoke and 400 kids (under age 18) become new daily smokers each year.  Statistics show that 1,800 Rhode Island adults die each year from their own smoking and sadly, 16,000 kids now under 18 and alive in Rhode Island will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.  Among the smoking population, tobacco use costs Rhode Island $640 million per year in annual health care costs. 

Increasing the age of sale for tobacco products 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 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. We also know that tobacco companies spend $9.1 billion a year – more than $1 million every hour – to market their deadly and addictive products, much of it aimed at young people.

Increasing the tobacco sales age to 21 will help counter the industry’s relentless efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. It will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students.

Hawaii and California were the first states to increase the minimum legal sales age (MLSA) for tobacco products to 21.  More than 200 counties and cities nationwide, including more than 100 communities in neighboring Massachusetts, have made their tobacco purchasing age 21.  The Central Falls City Council recently became the first local government in Rhode Island to approve an ordinance increasing the MLSA for tobacco products to 21.

We applaud Senator Coyne and Rep. Tanzi for their leadership in introducing this legislation to reduce the number of young people who start on a path that too often leads to addiction, disease and premature death.

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