News last week that smoking is killing even more Americans than previously thought gives greater impetus to legislative proposals by Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Inslee aims at the growing electronic cigarette market, while Ferguson targets the state’s legal smoking age. Both proposals home in on providing greater protection to youngsters and making it harder for them to get hooked on tobacco products. Both deserve legislative approval.
Smoking has been blamed for nearly 500,000 deaths a year from 21 diseases, including 12 types of cancer. But a new study examining health data finds that smoking accounts for another 60,000 deaths a year.
Researchers also found that compared with people who had never smoked, smokers were twice as likely to die from infections, kidney disease, hypertensive heart disease and respiratory ailments not previously linked to smoking.
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Smokers, on average, die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. That’s why preventing young people from ever becoming addicted to nicotine – and one day perhaps facing the grueling challenge of kicking the habit – is so important. Their very lives are at stake.
Ferguson takes the direct approach by proposing to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, the same age for legally purchasing alcohol. That makes sense. Alcohol can be deadly for young people, sometimes leading to alcohol poisoning and automobile crashes. But in the long run, tobacco is even more lethal and can also affect development of young brains.
Many teen smokers get their cigarettes from friends who are old enough to buy them legally; at 18, those friends often are schoolmates – high school seniors. Raise the age to 21 – and enforce it with penalties for businesses that don’t comply – and it becomes much harder for teens to get access to tobacco products.
Some teens will still get cigarettes; no law can completely prevent that. But raising the smoking age has worked. Ferguson cites the experience in Needham, Massachusetts, the first city to raise the legal age to 21. There the teen smoking rate has been more than halved in the last five years.
Inslee’s proposal would regulated e-cigarettes along the same line as regular ones. Although “vaping” might be safer than smoking – not enough research has been done to confirm that – it’s still a way to deliver nicotine. And increasingly, young people are getting addicted by vaping their nicotine rather than getting it in cigarette form. When they get older, and can more easily buy cigarettes, their habit is just transferred to the deadlier delivery system.
Lawmakers interested in protecting young people should take these proposals seriously.