Pima County and the City of Tucson will be considering a Tobacco 21 ordinance on Tuesday and research has shown such policies can reduce smoking among those 20 and younger.

In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control reported 47.4 million U.S. adults use tobacco products and 15.6 percent of adults in Arizona smoke cigarettes. 

From 2011 to 2018, the CDC reported a decline in combustible tobacco use, such as cigarettes and cigars, among middle and high school youth, but there was an increase in electronic cigarette use.

According to the CDC, last year 1.8 percent of middle school students reported smoking cigarettes in the last 30 days, down from 4.3 percent in 2011. In 2018, just over 8 percent of high school students reported smoking cigarettes in the last 30 days which was down from 15.8 percent in 2011.

However, the same time period showed an increase in e-cigarette, or vaping, use among the two groups. In 2011, 0.6 percent of middle school students reported having used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days which increased to 4.9 percent or 1 in 20 students in 2018. For high school students the rate rose from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 20.8 percent or one in five students in 2018.

The American Lung Association reported 94 percent of adult smokers had their first cigarette before turning 21 and 81 percent before the age of 18. The American Lung Association also reported 18- and 19-year-old users often act as tobacco suppliers for minors.

Among the CDC's recommendations to lower youth tobacco usage are Tobacco 21 policies which raises the minimum legal purchasing age for tobacco products. They also recommend increasing tobacco prices through taxes, increased education and awareness to the dangers of tobacco use and prohibiting smoking in indoor and public space.

According to the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, there are currently more than 485 cities and counties with Tobacco 21 laws as well as complete coverage in 18 states, Washington D.C. and Guam.

A study published in July by Abigail Friedman and Rachel Wu from the Yale School of Public Health found a 1 percentage point decrease in smoking among 18 and 20 year olds living within Tobacco 21 areas.

"Local Tobacco-21 policies yield substantive reductions in smoking among 18- to 20-year-olds," the study concluded. "Given the addictiveness and health consequences of cigarette smoking, this finding supports such policies' implementation as a means to promote public health."

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies reported the parts of the brain which are responsible for judgment, impulse control and sensation seeking are continually developing through young adulthood and in adolescents the brain is "uniquely vulnerable" to the effects of nicotine. The Institute of Medicine also reported youths from 18 to 20 would less likely to hangout with and supply tobacco to minors if the minimum smoking age was raised to 21.

However, studies gauging reductions in underage smoking are limited since Tobacco 21 laws are relatively new.

While Tobacco 21 laws have been gaining more traction in recent years, and bills are being considered at the federal level, a minimum tobacco purchasing age of 21 is not a new concept in America. According to a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, 14 states in the county had a minimum purchasing age of 21 by 1920 and eight more restricted tobacco sales to minors. After the 1920s, tobacco lobbying eroded the minimum purchasing ages to 16 through 18, the study stated.

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732

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