February 5, 2015

Tanzi proposes raising age for tobacco purchases to 21

STATE HOUSE – Rep. Teresa Tanzi has introduced legislation aimed at increasing the minimum age for tobacco purchases in Rhode Island from 18 to 21.

The legislation (2015-H 5225) would apply to all forms of tobacco, and would take effect immediately upon passage.

Representative Tanzi said she introduced the legislation because she believes the state needs to send a stronger anti-smoking message to youth for the sake of public health.

“Nicotine addiction is tough to break, and most smokers get hooked at a young age. My hope is that making it harder for younger people to get cigarettes would have the effect of preventing smokers from starting in the first place, and there is ample evidence to support this,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett). “The bottom line is public policy can create better health outcomes for more Rhode Islanders, and when the science is this strong in support of a change in policy, it would be irresponsible not to act.”

According to the American Lung Association, the average age of daily smoking initiation for new smokers in 2008 was 20.1 years among those 12 to 49 years old. The association also says people who begin smoking at an early age are more likely to develop a severe addiction to nicotine than those who start when they’re older, and most adolescents who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetimes report that they would like to quit, but are unable.

Several states – New Jersey, Alaska, Alabama and Utah – have set their minimum age for tobacco purchases at age 19, and numerous local jurisdictions have set their own limits at age 21, including 15 towns in neighboring Massachusetts. New York City banned sales to those younger than 21 last year. Representative Tanzi’s bill, if passed, would make Rhode Island the first state to do so.

The legislation was introduced Jan. 29 and is cosponsored by Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln), Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), Rep. John J. Lombardi (D-Dist. 8, Providence) and Rep. Shelby Maldonado (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls).