Letter to the Editor

Guest Column: New York must raise smoking age to 21

By Dr. Roy Korn Jr.

For The Daily Gazette (Schenectady, NY) – March 30, 2019

The state Assembly recently passed a bill to raise the age for purchasing tobacco products to 21.

Hopefully, the state Senate will do so as well.

A commonly used argument against raising the age to purchase tobacco products is:

“Why should an 18- or 19-year-old American who joins the military and puts his or her life at risk to fight for our country not be allowed to purchase tobacco products?”

As a physician who daily sees the deadly and tragic effects of tobacco in my patients, I find this argument to be misguided and faulty.

When our young people join the military, undergo training, including rigorous boot camp, and are then deploy abroad or stateside, our country and society benefit. 

These young people put their lives at risk to benefit our country and society.

There is no benefit to society in allowing tobacco use in military members under age 21.

According to the report Combating Tobacco Use in Military and Veteran Populations published by the Institute of Medicine, the Department of Defense claims that smoking adversely affects military readiness.

Enlistees who smoke are less likely to complete basic training and are more likely to have injuries and sickness when deployed than nonsmoking enlistees.

That is why the U.S. Army has already instituted tobacco-free basic training.

The science against tobacco use is clear and evidence-based.

According to Dr. Richard Hurt, founder of the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center, more than 50 percent of long-term smokers die from smoking-caused diseases decades after they become addicted.

Studies show that the younger people are exposed to tobacco products and other addictive substances, the more likely they are to develop long-lasting changes in the brain that perpetuate addiction.

And a U.S. Surgeon General’s report from 2014 notes that because of undeclared additives and modern design features cigarettes are more deadly now than 50 years ago.

Cigarettes are now considered as addictive as heroin, and of course, our laws do not permit military personnel returning from deployment to use heroin.

Let us recognize tobacco products for what they are – delivery systems for highly addictive drugs that cause more damage than benefit.

Today, electronic delivery (vaping) devices are addicting a new generation of Americans to nicotine.

We do not allow alcohol to be sold to young people under age 21, with no exceptions for members of the military.

We also should prohibit the sale of all tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes to individuals under age 21.

Primary care physicians like me see the devastating effects of tobacco use among our patients, young and old, every day.

The medical community strongly supports the legislation recently passed by the state Assembly – we know that it works – and that there is no benefit to making an exception for young members of the military.

I urge the New York Senate to pass Tobacco 21 as well.

Roy Korn Jr. is an internal medicine physician providing primary care in Cobleskill.