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Ind. Sen. Todd Young joins federal push to raise tobacco age to 21

Posted at 4:18 PM, Apr 19, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS — Raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products would help, but it’s just one way lawmakers can reduce Indiana’s youth smoking rate, a youth advocate says.

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind, said Thursday he’s working on legislation to raise the tobacco age to 21, after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he will prioritize the issue.

One reason for raising the minimum age is to prevent high school students from accessing tobacco products. Many high school seniors are 18 years old and could easily buy tobacco products for underclassmen at their school.

“There’s a lot of that peer-to-peer, user and influence,” Indiana Youth Institute President and CEO Tami Silverman said. “It’s important for us to know that teens interact and that slight difference between 18, 17, 16 isn’t all that significant, vs, 21. They’re kind of in a different life stage most often. That could be an additional barrier and deterrent.”

Nearly 90 percent of Indiana smokers start before age 18, Silverman said.

She said it’s important to prevent children to getting easy access to tobacco products.

“One of the [barriers] is increasing the age,” Silverman said. “We know if it becomes harder and they have to pay attention to the identification, that can be a barrier to kids accessing nicotine products.”

Altria, the parent company of Marlboro, released a statement Thursday on the proposed legislation. The company said it supports the idea, but the statement focused on vaping products.

“Altria strongly supports raising the legal age of purchase for all tobacco products, including e-vapor, to 21,” Altria Group Chairman and CEO Howard Willard said. “This is the most effective action to reverse rising underage e-vapor usage rates.”

Among Indiana high school students, the use of electronic vaping products has grown tremendously. In every grade from seventh to 12, more students used vapor products in 2018 than in 2015.

Another idea to help prevent kids from smoking is something many people have advocated state lawmakers do for months – increasing the tax on cigarettes.

“Teens are very, very cost sensitive, so it's important that we think about that many states have significantly raised the user taxes on cigarettes, and I know there's some discussion of that right now in Indiana as well,” Silverman said. “That's another very effective deterrent."

The Indiana Youth Institute is part of the Raise It For Health coalition, a group of organizations and businesses pushing for an increase of the cigarette taxes by $2 per pack.

With just a few days left until the end of the Indiana legislative session, such a change appears unlikely.