Jan. 19 2016
WASHINGTON, DC – Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of legislation to raise New Jersey’s tobacco sale age to 21 represents a failure of leadership and a terrible missed opportunity to protect young people from tobacco addiction and save lives. The main beneficiaries of his veto are tobacco companies that actively target young people as replacements for the more than 480,000 Americans their products kill each year.
Gov. Christie has spoken eloquently about addiction and his mother’s battle with lung cancer following decades of cigarette smoking that started in her teens. Unfortunately, when given the opportunity to prevent future such tragedies, he failed to do so. New Jersey will pay the price with more young people becoming addicted to tobacco, more lives lost and higher tobacco-related health care costs.
Despite enormous progress in reducing tobacco use, tobacco remains the nation’s No. 1 cause of preventable death. It kills nearly half a million people and costs $170 billion in health care expenses nationwide each year – including more than 11,500 deaths and $4 billion in health care bills in New Jersey alone.
Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults – age groups when nearly all tobacco use begins and that are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. We know that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. If we can get young people to age 21 as non-smokers, they almost certainly never will become smokers. Raising the age of sale to 21 will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students. A March 2015 report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine concluded that raising the tobacco age to 21 would significantly reduce smoking among youth and young adults and have other health benefits.
The tobacco industry knows youth and young adults are susceptible to nicotine addiction and heavily targets these age groups, spending $9.6 billion each year – more than $1 million every hour – to market its deadly products. In New Jersey alone, tobacco companies spend more than $185 million every year.
There is growing momentum nationwide to raise the tobacco sale age to 21, with the state of Hawaii and at least 115 cities and counties having done so. By vetoing this legislation, Governor Christie has let down the young people of New Jersey.