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5/1/2018 Supporters to testify today on Sen. Coyne bill to raise tobacco purchase age to 21
STATE HOUSE – The Senate Judiciary Committee today will hear testimony for legislation sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in Rhode Island from 18 to 21.

The bill (2018-S 2464), which would apply to all tobacco products including electronic cigarettes and would take effect Jan. 1, is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today after the Senate session (around 5 p.m.) in Room 313 on the third floor of the State House.

Four other states – California, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii – have already raised the tobacco age to 21, and Maine’s age will rise to 21 in July. Last year, Central Falls and Barrington adopted local ordinances prohibiting sales to those under 21, joining Boston, New York City and Chicago among at least 300 municipalities across the country with such ordinances.

“Raising the legal age for tobacco purchases makes a significant difference in access for young people, which in turn reduces their likelihood to develop a potentially lethal lifelong addiction. This is an idea that will save lives, reduce public health costs and save many families thousands of dollars a year that could be put to much better use. We will have a much healthier and more prosperous future in Rhode Island if we stop selling cigarettes to young people,” said Senator Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).

A report issued in March 2015 by the Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) drew strong conclusions that raising the tobacco age to 21 will have a substantial positive impact on public health and save lives. 

The study found that increasing the tobacco age will significantly reduce the number of adolescents and young adults who start smoking; reduce deaths caused by smoking; and immediately improve the health of adolescents, young adults and young mothers who would be deterred from smoking, as well as their children.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, national data shows that about 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21. The ages of 18 to 21 are also a critical period when many smokers move from experimental smoking to regular, daily use. While less than half of adult smokers (46 percent) became daily smokers before age 18, four out of five do so before they turn 21.

The Institute of Medicine study estimated that raising the age of tobacco purchase to 21 nationwide would result in a 25-percent reduction in youth smoking initiation, a 12-percent reduction in smoking rates overall, and 16,000 fewer preterm or low birth weight births in the first five years of the policy. The report estimated that such a policy throughout the United States would prevent 4.2 million years of life lost to smoking in children alive today.

In another study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that 75 percent of adults favor raising the tobacco age to 21, including 70 percent of smokers and 65 percent of those age 18 to 24.

Changing the tobacco purchase age to 21 has the support of health advocates in Rhode Island and nationwide, including Prevention Coalition BAY Team of Barrington, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Rhode Island’s U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse have cosponsored federal legislation to raise age to 21 nationwide.

The bill is cosponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Sen. Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston), Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence). Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) is sponsoring similar legislation (2018-H 7647) in the House.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923