Representatives from Atrius Health, including Dr. Dan Slater, Chief of Pediatrics, recently joined a large contingency of members from Tobacco Free Mass at the State House for Advocacy Day. The group is urging the passage of legislation that would impose stricter controls of tobacco products in Massachusetts – specifically House Bill 2864 and Senate Bill 1218, “An Act to protect youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction.”
Accompanying Dr. Slater was Kathy Keough, Director of Government Affairs, who spoke of the importance of limiting the availability of tobacco products to young people.
The legislation would accomplish the following:
Both bills (which are identical) build on actions already taken at the local level across many Massachusetts communities; however there is no statewide uniform law regarding the sale of tobacco products to youth in the state. So far 149 communities have raised the tobacco sales age to 21 representing over 63% of the state’s population. In addition, 126 communities prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in the workplace, and 152 communities prohibit the sale of tobacco in pharmacies.
“The evidence has shown that the later young people start to smoke, the less likely they are to take up smoking in the first place,” Dr. Slater said. “As a pediatrician as well as a representative of Atrius Health, an organization that prides itself on providing comprehensive health care to our patients, it’s important that we do everything we can to keep our patients healthy throughout their lives. Passage of this legislation is an important step in this state.”
These bills will reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction among youth by removing access to cigarettes and other tobacco products from high school social networks. This in turn will lower rates of addiction, improve health, save lives, and reduce health care costs.
Tobacco use persists as the number one cause of premature death and preventable chronic disease across the state and country with more than 9,000 Massachusetts residents dying annually from tobacco-related disease. Most adult smokers (95%) start smoking before the age of 21. Without prevention policies, 103,000 Massachusetts kids alive today will die from smoking.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the economic impact on retailers would be minimal – one quarter to one half of one percent (0.24-0.48 percent). However, the impact on children will be extraordinary, providing a 12% reduction in the smoking rate and 223,000 fewer premature deaths nationally.
The use of e-cigarettes in particular is growing at an alarming rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the annual Youth Tobacco Survey reported that the use of these devices among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014, with 13% of high school students stating they use electronic cigarettes.
The tobacco industry continues to target our youth with their new, cheap, sweet, and easy-to-get products that are not covered by current regulations. The lack of stronger laws limiting availability of tobacco products sends the wrong message to youth that these products are safe.
Atrius Health supports quick and favorable action of the Youth Tobacco Prevention Bills.