Oregon House votes to raise tobacco sales age to 21

3rd state to act; Pedro Quintana has more tonight

SALEM, Ore. - The Oregon House took steps to save lives by protecting kids from a lifetime of addiction Thursday when it passed Senate Bill 754 to raise the state’s age for all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, to 21, supporters of the measures said.

The bill passed the Senate, but was amended in the House this week to ensure youth under age 21 are not penalized for possessing tobacco.

SB 754, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner (D-Beaverton) and Rep. Rich Vial (R-Scholls), headed back to the Senate for a concurrent vote before heading to Governor Kate Brown’s desk. Governor Brown has expressed support for the bill and is expected to sign it, supporters said.

NewsChannel 21's Pedro Quintana gathered Central Oregonians's reaction to the change; his report tonight on Fox @ 4, KTVZ at 5, 6 and 7.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death, they said, claiming the lives of 5,500 Oregonians each year. Tobacco use also causes roughly 28 percent of all cancer deaths in the state.

"Unless we can reduce the number of young people who start smoking, 68,000 Oregon kids alive today will die early from a tobacco-related disease," said a news release from the Tobacco 21 For Oregon coalition, led by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Oregon Health & Science University.

The coalition advocated for this “tobacco 21” policy to reduce tobacco use, especially among kids, and prevent death from tobacco-related illnesses.

“As a physician, I’m committed to passing legislation to improve the health and lives of Oregonians. That’s why I’m proud to be the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 754, which will prevent young people from a lifetime of tobacco and e-cigarette addiction,” said Senator Steiner Hayward. “If signed by the governor, this new law will go a long way to preventing cancer as well as heart and lung disease.”

Roughly 1,800 Oregon kids become new daily smokers every year and an alarming 24 percent of Oregon’s 11th graders report using tobacco products, backers of the measure sayd. The increase in sales age will keep tobacco products out of high schools, where young teens often access them from older classmates.

“High school is a prime time for youth to begin a tobacco addiction, but we know that if kids don’t pick up a cigarette or other tobacco product during these vulnerable teenage years that most of them will never start using tobacco,” said Christopher Friend, Oregon government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “In fact, 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21.”

The higher sales age also helps offset the tobacco industry’s attempts to target young people at a critical period when many people transition from experimenting with tobacco to become regular, daily smokers. 

Tobacco use costs the state more than $1.5 billion in annual health care costs and Oregonians pay $788 in taxes to cover the financial burden of tobacco on our economy. This legislation will help alleviate the financial impact of tobacco use, supporters say.

“I am honored to serve as a chief co-sponsor of SB 754 in the House.  Research has shown that raising the minimum legal sale age of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to 21 years, in line with alcohol and marijuana, significantly reduces the number of youth who begin using these products and become addicted to them, saving Oregonians billions of tax dollars, and the lives of thousands of loved ones, each year,” added Rep. Vial.

If signed by Governor Brown, Oregon will become just the third state – following Hawaii and California – to raise its tobacco sales age to 21. More than 220 counties and cities nationwide have passed this policy. 

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