Congratulations to New York State!

Last updated: December 2019

The State of New York just raised the minimum age required to purchase tobacco and electronic cigarette products age from 18 to 21. The law went into effect November 13, 2019. And while I don’t know if Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York is familiar with COPD Awareness Month, I think The Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act of New York fits in seamlessly with its efforts and sentiments and is certainly great news to those of us concerned with awareness and prevention.

The goal of this law is simple

"The goal of this law is simple - to prevent cigarettes and vaping products from getting into the hands of our youth, creating an addiction to a deadly habit," the Governor said in a press release. "We are taking aggressive action to make sure the decades of progress we've made to combat tobacco addiction is not undone by a sharp rise in e-cigarette use (vaping) among younger New Yorkers."

What does any of this have to do with COPD?

“Smoking is the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”1 Cigarette smoking by adolescents in grades eight, 10, and 12 combined has declined by more than half since its most recent peak in the late 1990s.2 According to the New York State Department of Health data, New York's high school student tobacco smoking rate has also dropped from 27.1% in 2000 to a record low of 4.3% in 2016. Approximately 4.9 million middle and high school students were tobacco users in 2018.3

Just the opposite is happening in vaping. Now, nearly 40 % of 12th-grade students (average age, 18) and 27 % of high school students overall in New York State “vape.” The vaping craze is largely driven by flavored e-liquids used in e-cigarettes.4 In 2018, the most recent figures available, high school vaping use (27.4%) is 160 percent higher than it was in 2014 (10.5%).5

Holding retailers accountable

To further crackdown on retailers selling tobacco and vaping products to underage youth, the New York State Police is partnering with the New York State Department of Health to conduct undercover investigations across the state under. In fact, the State Police are empowered to enlist underage youth in an attempt to buy tobacco and e-cigarette products.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced a similar effort aimed at holding retailers accountable for selling e-cigarettes to kids and teenagers, as part of its ongoing campaign against youth vaping. In the announcement, Walgreens was singled out as the chief offender among pharmacy chains that sell tobacco products, with 22% of its inspected stores found to be selling tobacco products to minors.6

I can't think of a better way to prevent COPD

As of November 1, over 1,700 inspections have occurred since July outside of New York City focusing on youth 18 years and under. Retailers found selling tobacco and vaping products to underage individuals will now face criminal penalties in addition to civil penalties.

Because tobacco use persists among youth and adults, New York State continues to prevent young adults from starting smoking. According to the United States Surgeon General, 88% of adult smokers started using tobacco before age 18 and 90% of the people who purchase cigarettes for minors are between the ages of 18 and 20.

“Raising the legal minimum age for cigarette purchaser to 21 could gut our key young adult market (17-20…)”
- Philip Morris report, January 21, 1986

In March 2015, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine wrote, “the committee is reasonably confident that raising the MLA will reduce tobacco use initiation, particularly among adolescents 15 to 17 years of age; improve the health of Americans across the lifespan, and save lives.”7 The hope is that enforcement of the new law will help prevent children from getting cigarettes or e-cigarettes from their friends and ultimately save thousands of lives. I can’t think of a better way to prevent COPD than that. Can you?

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