Maryland public health groups and legislative representatives marked the American Cancer Society’s 42nd annual Great American Smokeout today by calling on lawmakers to protect the health of Maryland residents by passing strong tobacco control legislation. Only by tackling tobacco use through a comprehensive approach can we effectively overcome the country’s tobacco epidemic and prevent the more than 480,000 deaths each year caused by tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.
A coalition of advocates, including a local cardiologist and public policy experts from across the state, called on lawmakers to raise the tobacco sales age in Maryland from 18 to 21. This legislation – to be introduced during Maryland’s 2018 legislative session – aims to address the fact that about 95 percent of adults who smoke started before they were 21.
Currently, there are over 26,800 Maryland high school students who are smokers and every year an additional 2,200 Maryland youth under the age of 18 become daily smokers. At this rate 92,000 youth alive today will die prematurely from smoking.
Five states – California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and Oregon – have passed laws to increase the sales age for tobacco products to 21. As of October 10, 2017, at least 270 localities have raised the minimum legal sale age for tobacco products to 21.
The Society launched the Great American Smokeout 42 years ago as a platform to encourage smokers to quit. Since then, the program has expanded to not only encourage tobacco users to make a plan to quit, but also to encourage all Americans to advocate for comprehensive smoke-free laws, increased tobacco excise taxes and increased funding for evidence-based tobacco cessation programs. Raising the tobacco sales age can be a critical component to a comprehensive strategy to reduce initiation and lifelong tobacco addiction.
The use of tobacco products remains the nation’s number one cause of preventable death, killing more than 480,000 Americans and costing $289 billion in health care costs and lost productivity annually. In Maryland, tobacco is responsible for 7,500 deaths each year.