S.F. should raise tobacco-buying age

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing nearly 500,000 people each year. While San Francisco has made progress to reduce the impacts of tobacco, we must do more.

Raising the purchasing age for tobacco products from 18 to 21 is gaining traction. New York City, the State of Hawaii, and most recently Berkeley, have joined the nearly 100 jurisdictions nationwide in this effort, known as Tobacco 21. San Francisco is poised to be next.

Tobacco 21 legislation authored by Supervisor Scott Wiener will be heard before the Land Use Committee of the Board of Supervisors today. Both the American Heart Association and the SF Tobacco Free Coalition are proud to support this policy. With this change we can have a profound impact.

Youth are uniquely affected by access to tobacco products. Nearly 90 percent of smokers start as teenagers. Half of them will die from tobacco-
related illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer. Teen smoking is still on the rise, especially among communities of color and LGBTQ teens. The targeted marketing tactics of the tobacco industry seeks to get young people hooked as early as possible on e-products as well as more traditional forms of tobacco. Research shows that the nicotine in tobacco permanently changes the brain chemistry of children and adolescents. San Francisco must take the lead where the state has been hesitant.

An Institute of Medicine study reviewed the impact of increasing the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 across the country, and the results showed a 25 percent drop in youth smoking, and a 12 percent drop in overall smoking. We would also see healthier babies with a 12 percent drop in premature births and a 16 percent drop in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Think about that: One in six babies who died from SIDS could be alive today. That fact alone is worth any change we can make.

There are other benefits to reducing tobacco use. According to a study by UC San Francisco, the annual costs of smoking in San Francisco alone amount to $380 million in direct and indirect health care costs. Tobacco use costs the United States as much as $170 billion in health care expenditures every year.

In addition to the AHA and SF Tobacco Free Coalition, this legislation has earned the support of the San Francisco Medical Society, the Small Business Commission, the Health Commission, the Board of Education and the Youth Commission. We urge the Board of Supervisors to join us in support.

By raising the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21 years old, San Francisco can significantly improve the health of children, adolescents and our communities by preventing thousands of people from ever picking up a fatal habit.

Chris Tsakalakis is chairman of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, Greater Bay Area. Bob Gordon is co-chair of the San Francisco Tobacco Free Coalition.

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