On January 21, I wrote an overview of the Tobacco21 law and why the idea was gaining traction in cities throughout the United States. After months of educating advocates and recruiting speakers for the vote, I’m proud to announce that the Chautauqua County (CHQCo) Legislature approved a local law April 27 to raise the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21.
That evening many passionate speakers, including Anthony Billoni, the director of Tobacco-Free WNY at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, provided testimony. I spoke as a citizen of CHQCo, a place with deep family roots and a community I love. My words were this: “This is a pivotal moment…the most important vote you will ever act on.”
It’s most important because one in five high school seniors smoke (an even higher rate in CHQCo) and nicotine has a large influence on the development of adolescent brains.
It’s most important because young tobacco smokers often get tobacco products from their friends. By raising the legal age to 21, those who can legally buy tobacco are less likely to be in the same social groups as high school students.
And it’s most important because in Chautauqua County, nearly one-quarter of adults identify as smokers, a rate much higher than the state average. According to the National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health, more than 80 percent of all adult smokers begin smoking before the age of 18. Raising the legal age to 21 will help decrease future tobacco use levels among high school students, college-aged students and adults.
Mark October 1 on your calendars and celebrate big . Because that’s the day CHQCo joins Suffolk County New York, Cleveland, New York City, Boston and Kansas City, and the states of Hawaii and California with a legal age of 21 for buying tobacco products (including e-cigarettes!).
By Ken Dahlgren, Community Engagement Specialist, Tobacco-Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany