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 and sent it to Gov. Larry Hogan for his signature.
The legislation is intended to prevent young people from starting to use tobacco, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free. Del. Dereck Davis and Sen. Delores Kelley are the lawmakers who championed the legislation.
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.
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.
A tobacco age of 21 also will 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 also will 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 more than 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 more than $2.7 billion in health care expenses each year.