ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Although most Americans are rightfully focused on the health threat posed by COVID-19, tobacco use is still the No. 1 cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the U.S., according to national health experts.
In recognition of the long-term harm caused by early onset tobacco use, the president signed legislation in December amending the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old.
This legislation, known as Tobacco 21, makes it unlawful for any retailer to sell cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookah tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco, and electronic nicotine delivery systems including e-cigarettes and e-liquids to any person younger than 21 years of age. There will be no exemption for service members. The DOD has published policy that extends the restrictions to “U.S. territories and possessions,” including naval vessels at a U.S. port.
The law goes into effect Aug. 1. Retail outlets are required to post signs no later than July 1 informing patrons of this policy change.
“Research has shown that raising the legal age of sale to 21 would likely reduce youth tobacco initiation and use,” said Corey Fitzgerald, an Army Public Health Center social worker. “Nearly all smokers start as children or young adults, and these groups are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. Early onset of tobacco use increases risks of smoking-related illnesses and death.”
According to the APHC 2018 Health of the Force report, a mean average of 23 percent of Soldiers use tobacco. Smokers under age 25 are the largest group represented. The prevalence of tobacco use among male Soldiers was more than double that of females.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate if the current rate of cigarette smoking among Americans under the age of 18 continues, 5.6 million of those youths will die from a smoking-related disease. This would equate to one of every 13 Americans under the age of 18 alive today.
“APHC’s challenge goal is to eliminate tobacco use from the Army by 2025,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re highlighting the Tobacco Free Living program on our website to help Soldiers, family members, DA Civilians and military retirees adopt lifestyles that prevent the initiation of tobacco use; help those who want to quit tobacco succeed; live free from the effects of second-hand smoke exposure; and create tobacco-free zones where children live, learn and play.”
Fitzgerald said the APHC TFL website is a targeted priority in DOD Instruction 1010.10, Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
“We continuously update the site to reflect the latest TFL evidence-based strategies and interventions,” Fitzgerald said.
“For this policy to be effective at increasing the readiness and health of our Army,” he continued, “leaders at all levels need to communicate support of Tobacco 21 laws. Our stance is the health of our young Soldiers is just as important as their civilian peers.”
The APHC “Education for Individuals” Tobacco Free Living toolkit, available at phc.amedd.army.mil offers a number of resource links to assist Soldiers, civilians and family members with the goal of tobacco-free living.