Letter: Raising minimum tobacco purchase age would save lives

During my medical training, I have seen countless patients deal with the consequences of a lifetime of tobacco use. Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of mortality in this country. Raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 (also known as Tobacco 21) is a common sense and widely supported approach to reducing tobacco use in society.

A total of 95 percent of smokers begin using tobacco prior to the age of 21. By raising the purchase age, underage youth have less access to people who can legally access tobacco products. Studies have also shown the earlier someone starts smoking, the more difficult it is to quit. By delaying the onset of tobacco use, we increase the likelihood of successfully quitting. Raising the purchasing age is estimated to prevent 30,000 Minnesota youth from becoming smokers over the next 15 years.

Surveys of Minnesota youth have shown an increase in the use of tobacco products for the first time in 17 years. A 2016 survey of Fillmore County youth found 26.2 percent reported using tobacco products. During the 2019 state legislative session, the Minnesota Senate failed to pass a Tobacco 21 bill despite the House passing its own bill. Over 50 Minnesota localities have passed their own T21 laws.

As a society, we should strive to have the next generation live longer and healthier lives. The addictions of past generations do not need to pass to the next. Raising the minimum age of tobacco purchasing to 21 is one of many tools to help ensure Minnesota youth live long, healthy, and nicotine free lives. Parents and other concerned individuals should contact their elected city officials and urge them to support city or county level legislation raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21.

Kevin O’Donnell, MD