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Should Tennessee raise the age for tobacco purchases?

Johnson City Press • Mar 3, 2019 at 7:18 PM

As Johnson City Press staff writer Brandon Paykamian reported last week, two Tennessee legislators have filed a bill to increase the age of sale for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21.

Sen. Shane Reeves’ and Rep. Bob Ramsey’s proposed law has drawn support from anti-smoking and public health groups. The American Cancer Society called the bill a “potentially lifesaving public health measure.”

It’s true that state residents smoke at higher rates than the rest of the nation. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette use among adults was five points higher in Tennessee than the national average. Reported smoking rates among high school students was also higher in Tennessee than elsewhere.

While the prevalence of smoking is declining, both nationally and in the state, reports from national public health organizations last year reported a sky-rocketing rate of the use of e-cigarettes in high schools. Public health officials, worried the rise in the use of nicotine delivery systems could have negative effects on young people, are considering additional restrictions of the sale of vaping devices.

One national study shows most people start smoking before the age of 21 and that between the ages of 18 and 21, many smokers change from occasional smoking to daily use of cigarettes. In 2015, researchers at the Institute of Medicine concluded that raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 could have a significant impact on overall public health and could save lives.

Others, however, are skeptical of the government’s role in attempting to legislate healthy behaviors.

Jonesborough Republican Rep. Micah Van Huss told the Press he would vote against the bill because he’s against “voting for legislation that protects (his) constituents from themselves.”

Washington County’s other representative in the House, Matthew Hill, said he agrees in part with Van Huss’ sentiments about protecting personal liberty, but he said he understood the public health issues related to smoking. Hill did not say how he would vote when the age of sale bill comes before the Health Committee on which he sits.

It’s an important issue that could affect our lives and the lives of our children. That’s why we want to hear from you.

Should Tennessee raise the legal age for tobacco purchases? Are there instances when public health should take precedence over personal freedoms?

Send your correspondence to [email protected]. Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification. Letters may be no longer than 300 words and will be edited for grammar, style and length.

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