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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Approval of federal Tobacco 21 law should be impetus for state to pass its own

In signing a $1.4 trillion spending bill late last week, President Trump approved raising the federal legal minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The Tobacco to 21 measure was included in the spending package that will put off the possibility of a government shutdown until next fall.

The proposal was introduced by Indiana Sen. Todd Young earlier this year to protect middle and high school students from the dangers of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping, by prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.

Young has pointed to research that shows 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 21. He says making it more difficult for young people to obtain these products may be an effective way to prevent them from starting the habit.

News-Sentinel.com was disappointed earlier this year when Indiana’s lawmakers did not pass legislation in the 2019 session that would have raised the legal smoking age to 21, increase the cigarette tax by $2 and levy a tax on vaping products. So we lauded 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.

That’s why we support aggressive measures to prevent our young people from starting the habit.

Joining Young in supporting the Tobacco to 21 bill were Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney as well as Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Hawaii Sen. Dick Schatz, both Democrats.

The measure was combined in the spending bill with another bipartisan measure, the Tobacco-Free Youth Act, which was introduced early this year by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

The new Tobacco 21 law is set to take effect in about nine months. The Food and Drug Administration has 180 days to update its regulations, and the change takes effect 90 days later

While Tobacco 21 will become the law of the land in 2020, lawmakers in many states have forged ahead on this issue on their own. So far, 19 states have passed legislation increasing the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products to 21. Hawaii was the first to do so when state lawmakers instituted the change that took effect in 2016.

In addition to the 19 states who have instituted Tobacco 21, more than 530 municipalities and counties in 31 states have approved similar measures, according to tobacco21.org.

States with tobacco 21 laws had a 39% decline in regular smoking among 18- to 20-year-olds who had previously experimented with cigarettes, according to the study published recently in the journal Addiction.

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. But state legislators failed to act.

We wrote last month in support of an Indiana Legislature public health study committee’s approval of a recommendation from a state legislative panel that Indiana’s legal age for buying cigarettes, both tobacco and electronic, be raised to 21.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, recently announced a change of mind on the issue, saying he now joins the majority of the House Republican caucus in supporting raising the age to 21, noting the increase in youth vaping and related deaths and illnesses.

The implementation of federal legislation should be an impetus for Indiana lawmakers to reconsider a state proposal to raise the age to 21 in the upcoming legislative session.

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