Hartford Acts to Protect Kids, Save Lives by Raising Tobacco Age to 21

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 23, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Hartford City Council took bold action last night to protect kids from tobacco addiction and save lives by voting to raise the sale age of tobacco products in the city to 21. As the first city in Connecticut to raise the tobacco age to 21, Hartford is providing strong leadership in the fight against tobacco – the No. 1 preventable cause of death – and setting a terrific example for Connecticut and the nation. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will help prevent young people from using tobacco, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free.

The Hartford vote adds momentum to the growing movement across the nation to raise the tobacco age to 21. Six states – California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine – have enacted Tobacco 21 laws, along with at least 350 localities, including New York City, Chicago, San Antonio, Boston, Cleveland, Minneapolis, both Kansas Cities and Washington, D.C. Many other states, counties and cities are considering such measures.

Hartford’s vote should motivate state lawmakers to push for a statewide Tobacco 21 law and other cities throughout the state to act as well. We applaud the ordinance’s sponsor – pediatrician and Council Member Larry Deutsch – and the other council members for their leadership in supporting this strong step to reduce tobacco use. We look forward to Mayer Luke Bronin signing the ordinance into law, which he has indicated he plans to do.

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 about 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. We also know that tobacco companies spend $9.5 billion a year – more than $1 million every hour – to market their deadly and addictive products, much of it aimed at young people.

Raising the tobacco age to 21 will help counter the industry’s relentless efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. It will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students. A 2015 report by the prestigious National Academy of Medicine concluded that increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 would yield substantial public health benefits, with immediate and long-term benefits for the nation’s health.

Tobacco use kills nearly half a million Americans and costs the nation about $170 billion in health care bills each year. In Connecticut, tobacco kills 4,900 adults and costs over $2 billion in health care expenses. Without additional action to reduce tobacco use, 56,000 kids alive today in Connecticut will die prematurely from smoking. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 is a critical step in reducing and eventually eliminating tobacco’s terrible toll.