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Point of view: Higher tobacco purchase age only first step

Julie Bisbee
Julie Bisbee

Last month, President Trump signed legislation that increased to 21 the minimum age to purchase tobacco. That move, one advocated for by Oklahoma's Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust and other organizations, is a great first step toward decreasing youth tobacco addiction, but more remains to be done.

A higher purchase age could prevent 223,000 premature deaths and 50,000 deaths from lung cancer nationwide, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine. Ninety-five percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. If we want to reduce adult smoking, we need to ensure that fewer young people start.

We must also be vigilant in enforcing those laws. The adolescent brain develops until age 25 and our youth should not enter adulthood hampered by addiction.

Stemming the tide of youth vaping should also be a priority. On Jan. 2, the Food and Drug Administration issued guidance that restricts flavors for cartridge-style vaping products — JUUL being the most popular.

The new rules would stop the sale of flavored cartridge-based vapor products. Like most policies — read the fine print. The flavor restrictions will apply only to cartridge-based e-cigarettes, not vape liquid for tank-style devices. JUUL and other makers of vaping cartridges can still sell menthol, a close cousin of JUUL’s best-selling mint flavor.

State policies can take these protections further. Some states and communities have instituted bans on flavors including menthol, which has been shown to make tobacco products more attractive to children.

Oklahoma lags in protecting workers from secondhand smoke, and state leaders could pass a comprehensive smoke-free policy in Oklahoma. Current clean indoor air laws include exemptions that expose 30,000 workers to the hazards of second-hand smoke, not to mention making it harder for current smokers to quit.

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in Oklahoma and across the country, and it costs every Oklahoman $545 each year, whether they smoke or not.

Tobacco Stops With Me, a program of TSET, outlined a seven-point policy plan to reduce the smoking rate by half in 10 years and keep kids safe from nicotine addiction. We should build on this momentum to protect young people from tobacco and create a healthier Oklahoma. Visit StopWithMe.com to learn more.

Bisbee is executive director of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET).

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