NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Sen. Young’s bill to raise smoking age to 21 can help save lives

What the state Legislature wouldn’t do, Indiana Sen. Todd Young is hoping the U.S. Congress will — raise the legal smoking age to 21.

Young, a Republican, has joined forces with a bipartisan group of senators in proposing a bill — the Tobacco to 21 Act — that would raise the federal minimum age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars, to 21. Joining Young in supporting the bill are Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney as well as Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Hawaii Sen. Dick Schatz, both Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) also introduced a bipartisan bill in the House last week to raise the nationwide legal smoking age from 18 to 21.

While we were disappointed that Indiana’s lawmakers did not pass bills in the recently completed 2019 session that would raise the legal smoking age to 21, increase the cigarette tax by $2 and levy a tax on vaping products, News-Sentinel.com stands behind Young’s efforts on the national level.

More than 20 percent of adults (more than a million) who live in Indiana smoke cigarettes. Our state is the eighth highest in the U.S. with with 15.8 percent of adults who smoke every day, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. And tobacco-related illnesses kill more than 11,000 of them every year. Indiana is 10th highest in the country in lung cancer deaths. So why wouldn’t we want to take aggressive measures to prevent our young people from starting the habit? We have already written here that while vaping products can help smokers kick or reduce their cigarette habit, the use of e-cigarettes has backfired among our teen-agers.

That’s why, besides raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, Young’s bill also includes the use of vaping products. The U.S. surgeon general, former Indiana Health Commissioner Jerome Adams, says vaping among high school students nationally has increased from 11.7 percent in 2017 to 20.8 percent in 2018.

Supporters of the increases in cigarette tax and minimum smoking age in the Indiana General Assembly this year believed they could lower the state’s high smoking rate, stop young people from picking up the habit and fund public health. Since it didn’t happen here, let’s get it done in Washington.

The American Cancer Society’s Bryan Hannon chaired a coalition of nearly 200 health, business and community organizations that worked to inform the Indiana Legislature about the benefits of increasing the smoking age to 21. “The fact that we’re actually one of the few states to see our smoking rates increase, instead of decline like the rest of the country, it really becomes inexcusable,” Hannon said in a report by Indiana Public Radio on April 30.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reports that a dozen states and the District of Columbia plus more than 450 municipalities have already taken steps to discourage smoking.

Young visited his alma mater, Carmel High School, Friday to promote the Tobacco to 21 Act — Carmel had just made the news due to several students getting high during school by smoking marijuana in vaping devices. Young decried the increasing rates of teens using e-cigarettes across the country.

“That is a trend line that is unsustainable and incredibly dangerous. We have a national epidemic on our hands,” he said. “We have a moral imperative to act.”

We agree. And we agree with Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who said of Young’s bill, “As 95 percent of adult smokers start smoking before turning 21, this legislation will help prevent young people from using tobacco and save lives.”

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