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Raising the Age for Tobacco Products has Bipartisan Support

By John Forester | August 21, 2019

The following news article from The Wheeler Report highlights legislation aimed at raising the age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.  As we reported to SAA members on August 5th, we are part of the coalition supporting this legislation.

From The Wheeler Report . . .

On August 2, Sens. Marklein, Bewley, Darling, Olsen and Shilling along with Reps. Spiros, Crowley, Dittrich, Myers, Oldenburg, Rodriguez, Rohrkaste, Sargent and Vruwink circulated a bill to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products. The bill has now completed circulation and is waiting for leadership in both houses to be referred to committees for a public hearing.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Almost 90 percent of adult daily smokers started smoking by the age of 18, and about 2,000 youth under 18 smoke their first cigarette every day in the United States. In fact, use of tobacco products, no matter the type, is almost always started and established during adolescence when the developing brain is most vulnerable to nicotine addiction.”

The Tobacco-21 website states that 18 states have passed T-21 legislation, including: Illinois, Ohio, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Arkansas, Texas, Hawaii, Utah, California, Oregon, Washington. The site also says Wisconsin “spends 14% of the CDC recommended amount on tobacco prevention, though it does have a higher than average tax of $2.52 per pack.”

In an interview with The Wheeler Report, Sen. Marklein said he introduced the bill out of health concerns for Wisconsin’s youth, saying he’s heard from parents, school administrators, and school personnel all who said it needs to be out of the reach of school age students.  Marklein highlighted that 80% of students will be 18 before they graduate from high school, making it easy for kids who aren’t 18 to know someone and find someone who is legal to purchase the tobacco for them.  Marklein said he remembers when Wisconsin raised the drinking age in Wisconsin from 18 to 21 and said it was the same reasoning, that it was too easy for kids in high school, and in some cases middle school, to know someone who was old enough to buy for them.  Marklein said raising the legal age to 21 makes it harder for young people to have access to tobacco. When asked, Marklein said the bill is just being introduced and he kept the bill clean, but he is willing to discuss a “grandfather clause” or a military exemption if there is enough support for those items. Marklein said he has not spoken with Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald about the bill yet. Marklein said the bill had around 30 cosponsors, and said he found it interesting that the organizations and groups supporting the bill were so broad, including:

Marklein said he has not heard any opposition to the bill so far.

Rep. Sargent told the Wheeler Report, “Without question, tobacco use and nicotine addiction continues to have negative implications on public health and longevity in our state. Although our society has come a long way from the days of total tobacco dependence, with new technologies and marketing techniques, harmful smoking alternatives are on the rise. By raising the legal age of selling, purchasing, and possession, nicotine and tobacco products, and updating our statutes to include e-cigarettes and vapors, we can deeply reduce the rate of smoking in our state. This crucial bill has been given a jacket this week and has not yet been assigned to committees, but I am excited to work with a group of bipartisan lawmakers in developing a comprehensive plan to move this legislation forward.”

While the bill had yet to be introduced, several lobbying organizations registered on the topic, including:

A letter of support for the T-21 legislation sent to legislators by American Heart Association, UW Health, Marshfield Clinic, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Marshfield Children’s Hospital, and UW Health American Family Children’s Hospital says, “Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States…We applaud Senator Marklein and Representative Spiros for authoring a Tobacco 21 policy in Wisconsin. While there are some components of the proposal we would like to see strengthened, we support the bill and see it as a definite step in the right direction.”

A spokesperson for Governor Evers said the Governor is still reviewing the legislation.

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