Proposal calls on raising smoking age to 21 - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Proposal calls on raising smoking age to 21

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(WFSB file photo) (WFSB file photo)

A bill is moving forward that would make it illegal for anyone under 21 to buy tobacco.

Earlier this year, the state received an F when it comes to reducing tobacco use, especially when it comes to young people. This proposal could change that.

"We are winning that battle as far as adults are concerned. Tobacco use is declining, which is wonderful. My concern is the younger age group. We are not seeing the same results," said Rep. Prasad Srinivasan of Glastonbury.

He is urging his fellow lawmakers to pass his bill.

"Once teens go to college, their all adults. They can do what they want to do. I get it, but if you are in the high school age range, it is easy to get cigarettes. That is the age group I want to protect," added Srinivasan.

According to anti-smoking advocates, 22,000 people in Connecticut will be diagnosed with cancer this year and 4,900 deaths will be caused by smoking.

"We know that more than 95% of tobacco users start before the age of 21. So if we delay initiation, we know that many of those young people will never start to smoke," said Natalie Cullen-Shurtleff of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Critics say raising the age will not deter people from smoking if that is what they want to do.

"I think that kids, even if they are 18, are still going to find a way to purchase tobacco just like anything else," explained Diane Cleary of Rocky Hill.

If the bill becomes law, Rep. Prasad Srinivasan said the state could lose up to $186 million per year from the sale of cigarettes.

On Wednesday, more than 100 cancer patients, survivors and families gathered at the Connecticut State House in Hartford in support of the bill.

"Here in Connecticut, 4,900 deaths are caused by smoking each year, and another 450 people die from secondhand smoke - and this is simply unacceptable," said Bryte Johnson, director of government relations for ACS CAN in Connecticut. "We know that an increase in the legal sale age of tobacco can be a critical component of a comprehensive approach tobacco control, and thus a powerful tool in the fight against cancer."

Johnson said roughly 95 percent of adult smokers began lighting up before they turned 21.

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"We can save countless lives and health care dollars if we tackle this problem by increasing the legal sale age of tobacco in Connecticut," he argued.

The bill in question is House Bill 5384, which would increase the sale age of tobacco to 21.

The group will urged legislators to restore funding for tobacco control programs that were eliminated as a result of Gov. Dannel Malloy's 2016-2017 budget proposal.

The bill is in the Finance Committee and currently not on the calendar for the entire state house just yet.

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