Anchorage’s new age of sale for all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, rose to 21 on the first day of school, Tuesday, August 20. To celebrate, community advocates, public health leaders, and Anchorage Assembly members hosted a press conference to discuss this new Tobacco 21 ordinance and the youth e-cigarette epidemic.
The press conference was held Tuesday, August 20 at 11:00 a.m. at the offices of the American Lung Association in Alaska, 500 West International Airport Road, Suite A. The law went into effect on Tuesday to coincide with the first day of school in the Anchorage School District.
The Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously to raise the city’s tobacco sales age late last month. The ordinance was sponsored by Assembly Members Suzanne LaFrance, Austin Quinn-Davidson, and John Weddleton after being originally proposed by former Assembly Member Dick Traini.
This public health effort is important to help address the alarming rates of youth e-cigarette use, which have skyrocketed nationwide by nearly 80% among high schoolers in the past year. Here in Anchorage, high schoolers use e-cigarettes at twice the rate of cigarette use.
The U.S. Surgeon General has declared youth e-cigarette use an epidemic. The Surgeon General’s report reveals substantial evidence that e-cigarette use is strongly associated with the use of other tobacco products among youth and young adults, particularly combustible tobacco products.
Kids are especially vulnerable to the impacts of tobacco use, including tobacco addiction, dangers to developing lungs by inhaling the chemical cocktail found in e-cigarettes, and negative brain development impacts of nicotine.
“Despite all the progress we’ve made at reducing smoking rates, e-cigarettes are addicting a new generation of youth.” said Marge Stoneking, American Lung Association in Alaska executive director. “Ninety-five percent of all adults who smoke start before age 21. If we can prevent kids from picking up tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, during their vulnerable teen years, we know that most of them won’t start later in life.”
The tobacco industry has long targeted Alaska’s youth, hoping to replace the current smokers who are dying from their products. In fact, Big Tobacco spends roughly $18 million each year in Alaska to market their deadly products, while smoking costs the state $839 million in annual health care costs and lost productivity due to premature death.
“Raising the sales age for tobacco products to 21 is one more tool to help save lives and stop the economic damages of tobacco in our community,” said Emily Nenon, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Alaska government relations director. “Comprehensive tobacco prevention also includes increasing price, smoke-free indoor workplace laws, and community-based education programs,” Nenon added. “Without further actions like raising the tobacco sales age, 14,000 kids in Alaska under age 18 will eventually die prematurely from smoking.”
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death, taking the lives of nearly 700 Alaskans annually. Additionally, roughly one-third of all cancer deaths in Alaska are caused by smoking. To date, 18 states, including the entire West Coast minus Alaska, have passed Tobacco 21 legislation and more than 480 municipalities nationwide have taken this action to reduce tobacco use.