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ADA supports legislation calling for raising legal age to 21 to purchase tobacco

May 23, 2019

By Jennifer Garvin

Washington — The ADA May 23 announced its support for a new bill that would raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

In a letter to Sen. Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tim Kaine, the ADA praised the lawmakers for introducing S 1541, the Tobacco-Free Youth Act.

“Preventing oral cancer and other tobacco-related diseases has been a longstanding priority for the ADA,” wrote ADA President Jeffrey M. Cole and Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin. “About 9 out of 10 people who die from oral and pharyngeal cancers use tobacco, and the risk of developing these cancers is related to how much (and how often) they use. On average, 40 percent of those with the disease will not survive more than 5 years.  Tobacco products are also causally associated with higher rates of gum disease, periodontal disease, mucosal lesions, bone damage, tooth loss, jaw bone loss and more.

In the letter, the ADA noted the legislation would help prevent tobacco use among our youth by raising the national age to legally purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 as well as help reduce the number of young people who begin smoking before age 21, which represents 95% of current adult smokers, according to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  

“Moreover, the bill would apply to the more than 3.6 million middle and high school students who are e-cigarette users,” wrote Drs. Cole and O’Loughlin, citing the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

“Research shows that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to transition to smoking cigarettes. For that reason, the ADA does not consider these nontraditional tobacco products to be safer (or less harmful) alternatives to smoking,” they concluded.

In addition to supporting S 1541, the ADA has also joined a coalition led by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids supporting HR 2339, the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019. That legislation addresses the e-cigarette epidemic and calls for the Food and Drug Administration to implement the graphic health warnings for cigarette packages (including an oral cancer image) within 12 months. It also would raise the minimum age for purchasing non-traditional tobacco products such as e-cigarettes to 21 and prohibit non-face-to-face sales of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and e-cigarette accessories.

Follow all of the ADA’s advocacy efforts on tobacco at ADA.org/tobacco.