WASHINGTON, April 3, 2019 — Maryland is poised to become the latest state to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 as the state legislature approved the measure today and sent it to Gov. Larry Hogan for his signature. We urge Gov. Hogan to sign the legislation promptly.
With this bold step, Maryland can prevent young people from starting to use tobacco, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free. We thank the lawmakers who championed this legislation, especially Del. Dereck Davis and Sen. Delores Kelley. Their efforts will help reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic and further drive down tobacco use, the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States.
We are disappointed that legislators exempted active military personnel from this bill, particularly in light of the military’s recognition that tobacco use harms troop readiness and health and the active steps it has taken to reduce tobacco use within its ranks. Like all young Maryland citizens, military recruits should be protected from tobacco addiction and the death and disease that too often results. We urge Maryland lawmakers to eliminate this exemption at the earliest opportunity.
Maryland’s action provides another major boost for the growing, nationwide movement to increase the tobacco age to 21. Nine states – California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, Oregon, Massachusetts, Utah, Arkansas and Virginia – and at least 450 cities and counties have enacted Tobacco 21 laws. Measures in Illinois, New York and Washington await their governors’ signatures, and other states are moving similar bills as well.
Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults – age groups when nearly all tobacco use begins and that are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. We know that about 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. We also know that tobacco companies spend $9.4 billion a year – more than $1 million every hour – to market their deadly and addictive products, much of it aimed at young people.
A tobacco age of 21 will also help counter the industry’s relentless efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. It will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students. A 2015 report by the National Academy of Medicine concluded that increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 would yield substantial public health benefits, with immediate and long-term benefits for the nation’s health.
Tobacco use kills over 480,000 Americans and costs the nation about $170 billion in health care bills each year. In Maryland, tobacco kills 7,500 people and costs over $2.7 billion in health care expenses each year. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 is a critical step in reducing and eventually eliminating tobacco’s terrible toll.