The best way to protect adolescents from tobacco related illness and death is to help them avoid smoking altogether. We applaud the introduction of S. 2100 – the bill introduced by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) raising the nationwide minimum age of legal access to tobacco products from 18 to 21 – and the interest of policymakers at the federal and state levels in taking further steps to prevent youth and young adults from the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. - tobacco.

Almost all lifelong smokers begin smoking before they turn 21. The report by the Institutes of Medicine, released earlier this year, found that raising the minimum legal age to 21 would reduce tobacco initiation, particularly among 15 to 17 year olds. A minimum legal age of 21 would mean that those who can legally purchase tobacco are less likely to be in the same social networks as high school students. Moreover, raising the legal age of sale would also respond to recent data, which indicates an increasing rate of smoking initiation among young people age 18 – 21.

Our truth® campaign, our research and our investment in youth activism and community engagement are all working toward achieving a culture where youth and young adults reject tobacco. Raising the nationwide minimum age for legal sale of tobacco to 21 is an important policy intervention intended to help reach that very goal.                                 

Laws alone won’t get us there. We need public education and engagement campaigns, like truth, that give youth and young adults the power of the truth about tobacco to work in tandem with adoption and active enforcement of tobacco control laws and regulations. 

Bills such as S. 2100 take aim at a challenge that can be measured in the lives of millions of American youth: according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2014 report, when it comes to tobacco there are 5.6 million young American lives at stake.

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