Bill Coon

Public health professionals in the field of tobacco control have been talking about “Tobacco 21” laws for the past several years. This phrase, a nickname of sorts for the effort to raise the sales age of tobacco from 18 years to 21 years, started with the small city of Needham, Massachusetts.

In 2005, Needham was the first city in the nation to enact a policy to raise the age. Today, its smoking rate is half that of El Paso, around 7.5%.

Local, state and federal governments are moving quickly on this new and innovative strategy to curb tobacco use among teens and tweens. The end goal is to reduce social access to nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco.

Most of the clamor behind these bills is due to the success of pod-based electronic devices that deliver high concentrations of nicotine in a very tiny container that teens seem to be able to access at will. These pod-based devices are as prevalent as cell phones and as popular as selfies.

According to the 2016 Surgeon General’s report, “E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults,” e-cigarette or vape product use by young people is “strongly associated” with the use of other tobacco products, including cigarettes. We know that limiting 18- to 20-year-old’s access to tobacco reduces the smoking and vaping rates for young teens. The National Academy of Medicine suggests the potential for a 25% decline in smoking initiation rates within the age group this law targets, 15- to 17-year-olds.

There is no guarantee that Texas or El Paso will achieve similar success with a similar ordinance. But does that mean our community deserves less than a full-blown effort to try? El Paso has made good decisions in the past, groundbreaking ones in fact, and there is no reason to stop moving our community forward.

We can explore the possibilities for what we can achieve in the next five to 10 years and how our community health can improve because of our efforts. Short-sightedness only gets you to the next stop. A strong coalition of community members, health care professionals and agencies who move policies in our community are thinking past the next stop and will continue to focus on the destination: A Smoke Free Paso del Norte.

To learn more, call Annette Torres with A Smoke Free Paso del Norte at 915-730-3805.

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