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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Health Corner: Bad news young smokers, if you’re under the age of 21 in California you’re SOL

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A man smokes a cigarette on Nov 5, 2015. San Francisco recently raised the smoking age to 21 years old.

Beginning June 1, the legal age in San Francisco to buy tobacco products and s e-cigarettes, will be raised from 18 to 21.  

The law, which was unanimously approved last week, made San Francisco the first city in California to implement this law. 

As it turns out, San Francisco was one California city that was just a little ahead of the curve; California lawmakers voted Thursday to bump up the smoking age in the entire state to 21.

Tobacco smoking is currently the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that cigarette smoking causes 480,000 deaths annually, with one in every five deaths being from smoking. 

Furthermore, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 80 percent of all adult smokers began smoking before their 18th birthdays, with roughly 90 percent doing so before turning 20.

To find out just how significant this law is, the Daily Wildcat spoke with Dr. Cynthia Thomson, professor at the UA College of Public Health and director of ASHLine, a free smoker’s helpline in Arizona. 

“As the director of ASHLine and as a child who grew up with both my parents being smokers, I’m very excited about this news,” Thomson said. “We are now seeing a nationwide push to get this law through. In fact, in January of this year, Hawaii became the first state to enact a statewide raise on the smoking age.”

Critics of the law are worried that raising the smoking age to 21 will be difficult to enforce, as kids will find a way to get access regardless. 

“I do believe that children will find ways to get access to cigarettes, but as adults, we have a responsibility to limit that access through policy, parenting and role modeling,” Thomson said. “The fact that kids could get access shouldn’t influence our opinion as to why this is an important law.”

This movement of raising the smoking age to 21 is backed with significant amounts of research. 

A report from the Institute of Medicine found that raising the smoking age to 21 would prevent 223,000 premature deaths, result in 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer and 4.2 million fewer years of lives lost for those born between 2000 and 2019. 

Thomson said she believes one of the biggest benefits of raising the smoking age is the reduction in number of life-long smokers formed every year. 

“The developing brain is particularly vulnerable to nicotine and that brain development continues at a significant rate until age 25,” Thomson said. “We know that exposure to nicotine at an earlier age is more likely to result in a longer term addiction, creating life-long smokers. As a result, this exposure window is really, really important.”

San Francisco is not alone in addressing this issue. In 2013, New York City raised it’s smoking age to 21. 100 other cities in the U.S. have currently done the same. 

Thomson said there is a good chance Tucson could be headed in the same direction. 

“Tucson has been known to lead new policy efforts across the state,” Thomson said. “Right now we have a group at Pima County where we are trying to look at issue of access of tobacco products as well as e-cigarettes. There are definitely people active in this policy area, but it is never easy because you are competing with big business.”

If you are a smoker and looking to quit, Thomson strongly encourages seeking help to do so through organizations such as ASHLine. She added that those who try to quit smoking alone have roughly a 2-4 percent chance of doing so, while those who seek help and support at ASHLine have a 38 percent chance of quitting. 

For more information on ASHLine, click here,  or call 1-800-55-66-222.

Follow Akshay Syal on Twitter.

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