Reducing youth smoking becomes regional effort

New Jersey Lawmakers Senator Richard J. Codey & Assemblyman Ruben J. Ramos Jr. will introduce legislation to raise the minimum smoking age from 19 to 21 in New Jersey

New York, NY – Today, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn was joined by New Jersey State Senator Richard J. Codey, New Jersey Assemblyman Ruben J. Ramos, New York State Senator Diane Savino, City Council Members and health advocates to announce that New Jersey state lawmakers will introduce legislation to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 19 to 21. This announcement comes less than a month after Speaker Quinn, Council Members and City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley announced legislation that would make New York City the first major city in the country to institute a minimum smoking age above 19 years. Officials made the announcement today at City Hall joined by Sheelah Feinberg, Executive Director of the Coalition for a Smoke Free City, and Karen Blumenfeld, Executive Director of GASP (Global Advisors on Smokefree Policy) based in New Jersey.

The New Jersey legislation will be sponsored by Senator Codey in the Senate and Assemblyman Ramos in the Assembly. In the New York State Legislature, the bills were introduced in the Senate by Senator Savino and in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Rosenthal. In the Council, the legislation was introduced by Council Member Gennaro and discussed at the Council’s Health Committee hearing on May 2. The Council is expected to vote to approve the bill by the end of the summer.

“I am grateful that New Jersey is taking our proposal a step further to protect youth from the harmful health effects of smoking,” said Speaker Quinn. “Preventing our youth from smoking has now truly become a regional effort.”

“Anything we can do to prevent someone from becoming a new smoker and avoid smoking’s harmful effects on them and society is a step in the right direction,” said Senator Codey. “For laws such as this where it would be so easy to cross state lines to purchase tobacco; neighboring states need to work together and that is what we are doing today.”

“I am pleased to join with our neighbors in New York City to sponsor this important initiative in the New Jersey Assembly,” said New Jersey Assemblyman Ramos. “We all know that most adults who smoke now had their first cigarettes as teenagers. It is my belief that passing this law will discourage people from smoking that first cigarette, saving them their health, their money, and maybe even their lives. As a cancer survivor, I don’t want to see anybody go through such a horrible disease, especially if it can be prevented. My hope is that this bill will encourage future generations to make better decisions about their health and prevent many of the avoidable diseases that are brought on by smoking.”

“Youth smoking rates are declining at a slower rate than in years past, and young adult smoking rates are the highest than any other group, showing that smoking initiation continues past age 18,” said GASP Executive Director Karen Blumenfeld. “It is imperative to take policy steps that will help to reduce access of tobacco to young adults, since 99% of all smokers start before age 25. Smoking is the #1 cause of preventable disease and death in our nation. Almost 500,000 lives are lost each year from tobacco-related illnesses and disease, which includes 11,000 New Jerseyans and 25,000 New Yorkers. It costs our country a staggering $200 billion dollars in healthcare costs and lost productivity annually, with New Jersey at $3 billion and New York at $14 billion. New Jersey was the first State to raise the age of tobacco sales to 19 and include electronic smoking devices, and Suffolk County was the first county in the nation to do so. We applaud the NYC Council and the representatives here today from New York and New Jersey for proposing this important public health legislation.”

According to a 2010 New Jersey Youth Tobacco Survey, the smoking rate among New Jersey high school students is 14.3 percent. Of these youth, 5.4% of high school students reported smoking cigarettes on a frequent basis (20 or more days out of 30 days preceding the survey). It is estimated that tobacco kills 11,200 New Jersey residents per year and imposes more than $3 billion in health care costs annually.

“I am pleased to join my good colleagues from New Jersey and Speaker Quinn to announce their plan to increase the age of tobacco purchases along with New York,” said New York State Senator Diane Savino. “I look forward to a little ‘Healthy Competition’ with the Garden State!”
“If every state in the nation followed New York and New Jersey’s lead on smoking, we would be one step closer to eliminating the scourge of smoking, which causes so much suffering and loss,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “I am pleased to stand with my brave colleagues in this endeavor, and look forward to working with them to advance this bill.”

“It is wonderful that our proposal to raise the smoking age to 21 continues to spread among people committed to reducing tobacco use by children and young adults. I congratulate and am grateful to my legislative colleagues in New Jersey – a state that already has led the way in the fight against tobacco by raising their smoking age to 19 – for taking up this proposal to save even more young people from an addiction to tobacco products and the dire health consequences of tobacco addiction,” said Council Member James F. Gennaro. “When Speaker Quinn, Commissioner Farley and I announced our bill at City Hall in April, we knew it would become a model for municipalities and states across the nation. I want to thank Speaker Quinn for her leadership on this issue, and these courageous legislators from New York State and New Jersey for joining us in this life-saving effort.”

“Raising the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products in the State addresses the prevalence of youth smokers head-on,” said Health Committee Chair Maria del Carmen Arroyo. “This legislation will set a new standard for efforts to combat smoking, and I look forward to seeing a decrease in youth smoking rates Statewide.”

“Smoking is the leading cause of premature preventable death across the country,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “We know that most smokers first try smoking at a young age, so we are excited that New Jersey is following New York City’s lead and proposing to raise the age for purchasing tobacco to 21. The more states that raise the minimum age of tobacco purchases, the more reductions we’ll see in youth smoking.”

“As someone who started my own nicotine addiction as a young teen living in NJ when cigarettes were freely available, I am happy that this bill will save lives by helping young people avoid addiction, save the state precious dollars now spent on health care cost it could avoid and reduce human suffering from tobacco-related disease,” said Dr. Cheryl Healton, Dean of Global Public Health at NYU and Professor of Public Policy at the Wagner School of Public Service.

“We applaud the introduction of legislation in New Jersey to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. Nearly all smokers start as kids or young adults, so curtailing smoking among these age groups is critical to winning the fight against tobacco and reducing the deaths, disease and health care costs it causes,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Increasing the age of purchase will complement other strategies to reduce tobacco use, including tobacco tax increases, strong smoke-free laws and well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs.”

“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States,” said Sheelah Feinberg, Executive Director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City. “According to a recent Surgeon General’s Report, 88 percent of smokers start smoking before age 18. We know that school-age children are constantly bombarded by tobacco marketing and displays in convenience stores, playing on their vulnerability and piquing their interest in a deadly product. We applaud our neighboring state in their effort to reduce youth access and addiction to tobacco products.”

Despite New York City’s success in reducing tobacco use over the last decade, the youth smoking rate has remained flat at 8.5 percent since 2007. Raising the legal purchase age to 21 would reduce opportunities for youth to buy cigarettes themselves or to get them indirectly from older youth. By one estimate, establishing a tobacco purchase age of 21 could reduce the smoking rate among 18-20 year olds by 55 percent, and reduce the smoking rate among 14-17 year olds by two-thirds.

Furthermore, there is strong evidence that people who begin smoking at an early age are more likely to develop a severe addiction to nicotine than those who start at a later age. The transition from experimental to regular smoking typically occurs around age 20. Most people who are not smokers by age 21 are not likely to start.

Additionally, raising the minimum age to 21 would simplify enforcement for retailers selling tobacco products since New York State driver’s licenses already indicates conspicuously when a licensee is under age 21, but does not do the same for any other age.

“By pushing the legal age to buy tobacco to 21, it will deter our youth from picking up the bad habit of smoking at an earlier age. It is imperative in our effort to curb smoking and to keep our youth and young adults healthy,” said Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera.

“I am thrilled that support for this measure is growing,” said Council Member Annabel Palma. “Raising the smoking age to 21 is smart policy that will keep cigarettes out of teenagers’ hands and save lives.”

“I am proud to stand with our neighbors from New Jersey in the fight against tobacco use among young people,” said Council Member Gale A. Brewer. “I sponsored Local Law 11 of 2011, which banned smoking in NYC parks and beaches, and I am a co-sponsor of Intro 250 to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21. If we can stop young people from picking up smoking we will save lives, and create a healthier city for all by reducing second-hand smoke exposure. This is a common-sense measure that will delay access to a deadly habit, and I enthusiastically lend my support.”

“I am proud to be a co-sponsor of Int. 250 which would decrease the access that youth under the age of twenty-one have to tobacco products,” said Assistant Deputy Majority Leader, Inez Dickens. “It is imperative to diminish the statistic of youth smokers in our city, as smoking is the number one cause of preventative and premature deaths. Our youth are our future and this legislation will ensure that this City will maintain its vitality for generations to come.”