As a family physician, I regularly help my patients quit smoking tobacco. I often prescribe medicine, nicotine patches, and nicotine gum in this endeavor. I refer patients to special quit lines, where on-the-phone consultants guide them through this tough process. I have even had patients try acupuncture and hypnosis.
While a lot of attention and effort goes toward helping people quit smoking, the best efforts target young people before they even start and become addicted to nicotine.
Most, if not all of my patients wish they never started smoking in the first place. How many of my patients would never have started smoking if they couldn’t buy cigarettes as teens or get them easily from older friends and classmates?
The Tucson City Council is weighing whether to raise the age to purchase tobacco and nicotine products to 21 years old. Tobacco21 (or T21) is an important public health step that our city can take to stop addiction to nicotine before it starts.
Nearly all adult tobacco users first start smoking as teenagers. We’ve known for a long time that the teen brain is still developing and is more vulnerable to nicotine addiction in whatever form it comes, be it smoking tobacco or using e-cigarettes. Smokers who start sooner smoke more heavily as adults. Not only that, starting tobacco as a teen is linked to use of alcohol and substance abuse, high school dropout and teen pregnancy.
Young smokers who can’t legally purchase tobacco and nicotine products get them from their 18-year-old friends and classmates. Because 80 percent of high schoolers turn 18 before they graduate, 90 percent of the tobacco products used by those under 18 come from their 18- to 20-year-old peers who can legally purchase these products.
Ending their ability to legally purchase tobacco and nicotine projects will cut off this supply to those in high school who are most at risk. This will have only a minimal impact to tobacco retailers and to the tax revenue base as only 2 percent of total cigarette sales come from those under 21.
Tucson, in passing T21 legislation, will join over 300 cities, counties, and states around the U.S. Already more than 30 percent of Americans are covered by T21 policies.
And T21 works. When other places like Tucson approve T21, 25 percent less youth start smoking and the overall smoking rate drops by 12 percent.
Join me, every major national physician and health-care group, and the 75 percent of Americans who favor T21 in supporting the Tucson City Council raising the age to purchase tobacco and nicotine products to 21.
While T21 won’t stop every potential teen smoker from accessing cigarettes, we have the opportunity to keep cigarettes out of reach of most Tucson teens, and stop the next generation of Tucsonans from being addicted to nicotine.
I’m looking forward to seeing fewer and fewer of my patients struggle to quit smoking in the years and decades ahead thanks to T21 passing in Tucson.