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Tobacco-Free Youth Act causes concern

Muskogee Phoenix - 12/27/2019

Dec. 27--Aiden Short, 19, won't share how long he's been smoking cigarettes. He knows it's a bad habit to have, het said, but he doesn't see it as any different than drinking soda or eating sugary snacks. He isn't a fan of the newly passed Tobacco-Free Youth Act, a federal law that raised the purchasing age for tobacco products to 21.

"You're making a choice, but that should be your call," he said. "Now they're telling people who can sign up for the Army they can't buy cigarettes. That's stupid."

The Tobacco-Free Youth Act was passed Dec. 20 as a provision of a federal spending package. A news release from Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) states the law will save lives.

"According to a 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine, the passage of [Tobacco-Free Youth Act] in the U.S. could prevent 223,000 premature deaths, prevent 50,000 deaths from lung cancer and reduce smoking prevalence by an additional 12 percent," the release states. "In Oklahoma, 1,800 children and teens become daily smokers each year."

Short, however, doesn't think it's going to stop anyone from getting cigarettes or tobacco products. He believes it's only going to drive people to acquire the products illegally, he said.

"You're going to have 18-year-olds sending people into stores to buy cigarettes for them," Short said. "You're going to have this whole new black market for loose cigarettes and chewing tobacco for all the college kids in this town."

TSET's news release, however, contends that 18- to 21-year-olds are the primary culprits in that tactic in the first place: people in that age group are most frequently the providers of tobacco products to kids 17 and under, the release states.

"By increasing the age to purchase tobacco, it cuts off the main pipeline for underage tobacco access from 18- to 20-year-old peers," the release says. "Preventing children and young adults from starting tobacco use is critical as 95 percent of users start before age 21."

LaTisha Moore doesn't smoke, but she's skeptical of the new law.

"Like, I know kids smoking is a bad thing, but all this is going to do is punish adults," she said. "It's like with alcohol. It really bothers me that you can join the military and not buy these things. You're an adult. You should be allowed to make your own decisions."

Moore said she would want to see stores do a better job of enforcing already existing policy before trying to take on new ones.

"Like, they can't stop kids from getting hooked on this stuff as it is, and they think making it more difficult to do it legally is going to help," Moore said. "I just don't get that."

Short said people who weren't ready to quit smoking are going to be left in the lurch when the new law takes effect. (The Food and Drug Administration is expected to update their regulations within 180 days of the act's passage, the release said.)

"You've got people like me who, I mean, I'm not going to pretend I like going without a smoke," Short said. "It's going to put some people who aren't at a point where they can handle the withdrawals into a bad spot. This isn't the way to go about it is what I'm saying."

TSET Executive Director Julie Bisbee noted that the "Tobacco 21" law, as the release calls it, is only the first step in the process of limiting youth access to tobacco products.

"This action by Congress is a good first step toward curbing youth access to tobacco and vaping products," Bisbee said in the release. "But this is only a first step. State and federal leaders can do more to protect Oklahoma youth through polices like restricting flavored products, passing a comprehensive clean indoor air law and devoting more resources to compliance checks of tobacco retailers."

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