NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Action needed to curb smoking among youth

Last month we touted Indiana Sen. Todd Young’s introduction of a bipartisan bill that would prohibit the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21.

A similar measure was, unfortunately, bypassed by the Indiana Legislature this spring along with other possible actions that could have been taken to curtail the epidemic problem of smoking in our state. We think Young’s bill introduced to Congress was a bold step to force the issue nationally, one, he says, public health experts call an “incredibly impactful policy change.”

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box reinforced our concerns about smoking as a serious health issue last week when she said, “When we look at tobacco and the use of tobacco, specifically smoking, it is the single most preventable cause of death and disease.”

Box, participating in a Better Health Wabash Valley round table discussion a week ago Friday in Terre Haute, added that vaping, also known as JUUling, has increased the number of Indiana youth who will get hooked on the smoking habit

News-Sentinel.com maintains that steps need to be taken to discourage tobacco and e-cigarette use in Indiana, especially for our youth, because that’s when the vast majority of smokers get their start.

“Pretty soon our (state) youth tobacco survey will come out, and it will show you how severely we have seen increases in our middle schools and high schools” on JUUling, Box said in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. “As far as I am concerned, that is just recruiting that next generation of smokers for the state of Indiana, which is the eighth highest smoking state in the nation. We have almost 22 percent of our adults smoking every day.”

That leads to heart disease as well as other health issues, she said.

We were disappointed that Indiana’s lawmakers did not pass bills in the 2019 session of the General Assembly that would raise the legal smoking age to 21, increase the cigarette tax by $2 and levy a tax on vaping products. Which is why News-Sentinel.com stood behind Republican Young’s efforts on the national level to join 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.

And with the state health commissioner’s voice echoing our concerns about the effects of vaping on Indiana youth in introducing them to tobacco (and marijuana), we reiterate our call on state and federal officials to attack a problem that is particularly acute in Indiana.

Young has pointed out that 95 percent of adult smokers nationwide started before they were 21. He also points out that in Indiana tobacco users contribute to nearly $3 billion in health care costs.

“In our state specifically, tobacco use continues to be the single most preventable cause of death and disease,” Young told WSBT 22 in South Bend recently. “In fact, we’re 45th in the nation in percentage of smokers, with a smoking rate of 21.8 percent.”

Public health experts say raising the legal tobacco age is the No. 1 thing lawmakers can do to protect children and teenagers, according to Young. He said he hopes his bill will pass and that President Trump will sign it in the next few months.

We hope so, too.

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