Maryland lawmakers want to make it tougher for teenagers to buy cigarettes in the state under legislation just-proposed to increase the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old.

State Sen. Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery County) is spearheading the legislation with a bill she filed Jan. 16 in the Maryland General Assembly.

“It’s an idea that is gaining traction across the United States,” Kathy Dunn, a spokeswoman for the senator, told the AFRO Jan. 16. “We’ve gotten six co-sponsors in the senate and we’re going to file it today.”

Last year New York City lawmakers increased the age required to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products, such as cigarillos and smoke-free e-cigarettes, to 21. The cost of cigarettes in New York City also went up to $10.50 and merchants are barred from applying discounts to spur sales.

States such as Alaska, Alabama, and New Jersey have already banned the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 19, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The legislation was proposed a day before federal health officials issued fresh evidence of the link between smoking and health problems including diabetes, colorectal and liver cancers, erectile dysfunction and ectopic pregnancy.

Acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris D. Lushniak Jan. 17 significantly expanded the list of illnesses that cigarette smoking has been scientifically proved to cause.

The list was broadened in 1990 to bladder cancer and in 2004 to include cervical cancer.

Dunn said that lawmakers in Maryland are going after the increase because studies released by the American Lung Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), show that daily smoking typically starts before adulthood, when teens are still ill-equipped to make decisions that could have life-long consequences.

“Smoking and smokeless tobacco use are initiated and established primarily during adolescence,” said the CDC in information released on youth and tobacco use. “In fact, 88% of adult smokers who smoke daily report that they started smoking by the age of 18 years.”

Furthermore, reports from the Annals of Internal Medicine also show that “as a means to reduce access to minors, it is important to consider that 90 percent of cigarettes purchased for them are done so by people aged 18 to 20 years.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the disclosure by public health officials that a link exists between cigarette smoking and cancer and heart disease.
Still, the habit is killing 440,000 people a year in the U.S., according to CDC mortality data.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer