Gov. Christie Should Sign Tobacco Prevention Measures That Will Protect Kids and Save Lives

Statement of Bill Lee, Executive Vice President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Jun. 23 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – New Jersey has the opportunity to step up in the fight against tobacco use – if Gov. Chris Christie sides with kids over the tobacco industry. The Legislature has passed two bills that will help New Jersey combat tobacco use. One bill would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21; the second measure provides $7 million to the state’s tobacco prevention and cessation program (New Jersey currently allocates no state funds). Gov. Christie should sign these bills into law promptly and leave a legacy of better health for New Jersey.

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. Now he has the chance to help prevent similar tragedies. By signing these bills, he can help keep young people from becoming addicted to tobacco and starting down a path that so often leads to serious diseases and premature death. It’s critical that Gov. Christie do so because tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in New Jersey, killing 11,800 people and costing the state over $4 billion in health care bills each year.

Last year Gov. Christie vetoed a bill to raise New Jersey’s tobacco age to 21, a terrible missed opportunity. This year, he should sign the bill.

Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will help 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 about 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 tobacco age 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 yield other health benefits.

There is growing momentum nationwide to raise the tobacco age to 21; to date, California, Hawaii and at least 245 localities have done so.

New Jersey’s current funding of its tobacco prevention and cessation program, meanwhile, is among the worst in the nation. The state has not allocated any state money to its program since fiscal year 2012, ranking it last among all states, year after year. In fiscal year 2017, New Jersey received over $944 million from tobacco taxes and the 1998 tobacco settlement payments, but spent none of its tobacco money to combat tobacco use.

By spending $7 million on tobacco prevention, New Jersey can achieve significant benefits. Such funding would prevent 3,230 New Jersey kids from growing up to become addicted smokers; save 1,100 kids from eventually dying prematurely from smoking; and save over $67 million in future health care expenditures.

Every scientific authority that has studied the issue – including the Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine, the President’s Cancer Panel and the National Cancer Institute – has concluded that when properly funded, implemented and sustained, tobacco prevention and cessation programs reduce smoking among both kids and adults.

Gov. Christie should seize this opportunity to protect children, improve health, and save lives and health care dollars in New Jersey.

 

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