Proposed bill could increase the age limit to buy tobacco

Published 5:56 pm Saturday, February 10, 2018

By Adam Dodson | The Selma Times-Journal

Alabama Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) has proposed House Bill 47 calling for the state to raise the legal age to purchase, sell or use tobacco from 19 to 21 years old.

In addition to Pringle’s sponsorship of the bill, five physician groups throughout the state have come out in joint public support of the legislation.

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama, American Academy of Pediatrics-Alabama Chapter, American Academy of Cardiology-Alabama Chapter, the Alabama Dermatology Society and the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians have all joined their efforts to see this bill through.

“Smoking remains one of the most preventable causes of heart disease by making the heart work harder and raising the blood pressure, which can trigger a stroke,” President of Medical Association of Alabama Jerry Harrison said in a press release.

“So, raising Alabama’s legal tobacco age limit by a couple of years in order to add years to our children’s lives only makes sense.”

The bill comes in the wake of growing discontent with health issues associated with tobacco.

If passed, Alabama would join other states who have recently decided to raise their legal age at the state, county or city level. Alabama is already one of 16 states that does not have a statewide legal tobacco age of 18.

Larger cities, such as New York, Chicago and Cleveland, have raised the age to 21, although their states still have the age at 18.

States who have recently changed their legislation to raise the age for their entire jurisdiction include California, Oregon and Hawaii, with Oregon increasing the age to 21 at the beginning of 2018.

According to a 2017 study conducted by the journal Pediatrics, around three-fourths of American adults would support an increase in the legal tobacco age. This support spans from doctors, parents, legislators and non-profit organizations alike.

For some doctors, the health benefits will speak for themselves.

“As a prior military doctor, I have seen how bad nicotine addiction can become. Nicotine addiction is actually proven to be worse to overcome than heroin addiction,” Dr. Raul Piñon of Vaughan Regional Medical Center said.

“There are around half a million deaths associated with tobacco each year. I am glad to see Alabama stepping in.”

However, raising the age to 21 also raises questions about how kids will respond to the discrepancies in age for alcohol, tobacco and the military.

While the additional two years are received positively by most, kids may be just as accessible to tobacco and tuned-out to health risks as they were before the bill.

“I think that anything that gets it above 19 helps get it above the school age,” Tommy Tisdale, principal of Keith High School, said. “But at the same time, you can be in the military at 18. It is strange. I can’t say that it will stop kids from getting their hands on it.”

In order to help combat the classic argument that someone who is old enough to be drafted to fight in a war should be able to smoke a cigarette, a couple legislative bodies got creative.

For the state of California, they have an exception to their law that permits active military members as young as 18 for the purchase of tobacco.

Onondaga County in New York has a similar law in place that exempts 18 to 20-year old military members. Alabama’s current law permits tobacco purchase and usage by individuals aged 18 on federal military bases.

Another common argument is whether or not a two-year raise actually makes enough of a difference for the health and development of youth.

The same study by Pediatrics says that it is “likely” that as many as 249,000 fewer premature deaths and 45,000 fewer lung-cancer deaths would occur for those born from 2010-2019.

The greatest difference the two years gives, according to Alabama Medical Association communications director Lori Quiller, is more time to educate young ones.

“A couple more years of education can add many years of life,” Quiller said.

“There is a lot of growing up that goes on in that two years. It could help them make better decisions going forward.”

The tobacco usage problem has adapted to modern society with the introduction of products such as e-cigarettes and “vapes,” which are often believed to be safer alternatives to cigarettes or dipping tobacco, although this is not the case.

These new products and trends have paved new paths for kids to consume tobacco while being unaware of the possible health costs.

“It is criminal for these vapes and e-cigs to be promoted as healthy to people,” Piñon said.

“Along with this, some kids are still going to get easy access to tobacco from their parents.”

As it currently stands, the legal age to buy tobacco in Alabama is still 19.

The legislation is currently in the Alabama House Judiciary Committee for review.

For those interested in tracking HB 47, go to www.alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/ALISON/default.aspx.