Our Turn: For the state’s health, raise tobacco sales age to 21

Published: 6/4/2020 6:00:21 AM

Currently, the New Hampshire House of Representatives is considering Senate Bill 248 or “The Tobacco 21 Bill,” which would codify in state statute the action already taken at the federal level to raise the tobacco sales age to 21.

For the health and safety of Granite State youth, the American Lung Association and the Tobacco 21 Coalition, a diverse group made up of local public health advocacy and substance misuse prevention organizations, have long advocated for the age of sale of tobacco products to increase to 21.

We strongly urge the New Hampshire Legislature to pass SB 248, and recognize 21 as the evidence-based age proven to support prevention, healthy development, and long-term health and safety.

Late last year, the federal government raised the age to purchase tobacco products to 21. This was a very positive step forward; however, it complicated enforcement issues in the state as around the same time New Hampshire’s tobacco sales age was increased to 19. This discrepancy has created a gap with enforcement initiatives at the state and local level.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission Division of Enforcement, the authority responsible for enforcing tobacco laws, has stated that it can only enforce laws set by the state of New Hampshire, which is 19. This is not enough to protect the health and safety of Granite State youth.

To correct this and allow for enforcement of the sales age among retailers, we must pass SB 248.

New Hampshire’s rate of tobacco use among youth remains one of the country’s highest and is continuing to rise. Today, according to the 2019 New Hampshire Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 50% of Granite State youth have tried e-cigarettes and nearly 34% report current use.

We know that during times of stress and uncertainty young people may turn to smoking or vaping even more, making this historic moment also a dangerous one for young people who are looking for ways to cope.

We know that strong policies, such as licensing, taxation of tobacco products, enacting smoke-free places and the enforcement of them, are key ways to reduce tobacco use. It is now time to make sure that Tobacco 21 is part of the toolbox and enforced in New Hampshire.

Six New Hampshire towns – Dover, Keene, Franklin, Newmarket, Durham and Lebanon – have already enacted Tobacco 21 ordinances, and it is time for the state to follow suit and clear up the confusion around retailer enforcement of the tobacco sales age.

(Beth D’Ovidio and Marie Mulroy are members of the American Lung Association of New Hampshire’s board of directors.)

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