Letter: Tobacco 21 Will Save Lives

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Governor Cuomo’s inclusion of tobacco prevention measures in the New York State 2019 proposed budget aim to protect our youth from the ill effects of tobacco use.

As a volunteer with the American Heart Association, I’m proud that we have long advocated for anti-tobacco measures. We are glad to see that the proposed budget includes raising the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products to 21.

We applaud the governor’s proposed statewide action. T21 has already passed local legislation in both Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island and expansion of this legislation statewide will enhance sparing youth the potentially deadly effects of a lifelong smoking habit. While the tobacco industry has done a good job marketing these products to youth through candy flavors and the false idea that they don’t contain nicotine, the truth is, most contain the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

Adolescent brains aren’t fully developed until age 25, giving nicotine an incredibly impactful influence on cognitive functions, including the area of the brain related to addiction.

Importantly, we know that Tobacco 21 will be successful. A 2015 study from the Institute of Medicine shows that passing a Tobacco 21 law can stop young adults from picking up their first cigarette. It also makes it harder for high school students to purchase tobacco and pass it on to younger friends.

Smoking is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and the leading cause of preventable death. Simply put, tobacco control measures that reduce smoking rates will save lives throughout our state.

—Russell Schiff, MD, FAAP, FACC, FASE, FAHA
President Long Island American Heart Association Board of Directors
Director Ambulatory Pediatric Cardiology, Northwell Health

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