January 23, 2019 – Times Journal – Cobleskill, NY

Dear Editor,

Last week Governor Cuomo announced a comprehensive list of budgetary and legislative tobacco control proposals for 2019, which included raising the minimum sales age for tobacco and electronic cigarette products from 18 to 21.

Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death in New York State. The current adult smoking rate for New York State is 14.2 % while in Schoharie County it is 18.1 %.  There are local health and economic burdens related to tobacco use; reducing tobacco use among adults and youth can significantly reduce this burden.

Studies indicate that raising the tobacco sales age to 21 will have a substantial impact on decreasing smoking among youth and young adults. Many smokers transition to regular, daily use between ages 18 and 21; many young adult smokers serve as a social source of tobacco products for youth; and tobacco companies have long viewed youth adults ages 18 to 21 as a target market group. An estimated 90 % of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18.

After years of downward trends in the use of tobacco products among high school youth in the state, there has been a significant increase in the use of e-cigarettes. Between 2014 and 2018, electronic cigarette use by youth increased 160 % from 10.5 % to 27.4 %. E-cigarettes remain the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, surpassing cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco and hookah.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, tobacco use among youth and young adults in any form, including e-cigarettes is not safe. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain.

Delaying the age when young people first experiment with or begin using tobacco could reduce the risk they will become addicted tobacco users. As a primary care physician, I am pleased that Governor Cuomo has included Tobacco 21 as a part of statewide tobacco control-related priorities for 2019.

Many others states in the nation including California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine have raised the tobacco sales age to 21.

I encourage community members, decision-makers and elected officials to support statewide tobacco control initiatives.

Locally, individuals and groups may contact Advancing Tobacco Free Communities of Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie Counties (ATFC-DOS) to learn more about tobacco issues, mobilize around problems that tobacco addiction causes and understand the choices communities have to address these problems.

Roy Korn, MD

Cobleskill