Tobacco 21: Protecting the Mouth and the Rest of the Body
Here’s a quick challenge: make a list of the reasons why you should never start using tobacco products. Was improved oral health among them? Preventing early onset of tobacco use is an important factor in preventing gum disease and oral cancer. That’s why the Campaign for Dental Health supports Tobacco 21.
Because 90% of smokers begin their tobacco use before age 18, public health interventions that reduce youth access to tobacco can make a big difference in protecting children from lifelong addiction. One successful strategy is the “Tobacco 21” movement.
Tobacco 21 laws raise the minimum purchase age for tobacco products from 18 to 21 years. This change helps limit access to tobacco: youth who cannot buy cigarettes typically rely on older friends to purchase them. In fact, 90% of people who purchase tobacco for distribution to minors are between the ages of 18 and 20. Raising the purchase age to 21 means less access to cigarettes, and thus less potential for nicotine addiction. According to an Institute of Medicine Report, increasing the tobacco purchase age to 21 would result in a 12% overall reduction in smoking prevalence, and 25% reduction in smoking initiation among 15-17 year olds.
The Tobacco 21 movement began in Needham, MA in 2005. From 2006-2010, Needham saw a 47% reduction in teen smoking, compared to only a 14% reduction in neighboring towns. Following this success, these laws have gained traction across the country. As of August 2017, five states and over 255 cities and towns have raised the minimum tobacco age to 21! In addition, public support is strong: 71% of US adults support raising the tobacco age to 21.
Preventing tobacco use before it begins builds #HealthyCommunities. To learn more about Tobacco 21 efforts, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Richmond Center website, contact your local AAP Chapter, or reach out to the AAP Division of State Government Affairs.