Supervisor Wiener to Introduce Legislation Raising Tobacco Purchase Age to 21 in San Francisco

San Francisco would join New York City and a number of other smaller cities to reduce tobacco use, which is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. A current effort to set the statewide tobacco purchase age to 21 stalled in the California legislature.

San Francisco — Today, Supervisor Scott Wiener will introduce legislation, along with co-sponsors Supervisor Eric Mar and Malia Cohen, to raise the tobacco purchasing age in San Francisco from 18 to 21. San Francisco would become the second largest city in the country, after New York City, to set the tobacco purchasing age at 21. Earlier this year the State of Hawaii raised the tobacco purchase age to 21, and Berkeley is also considering doing the same. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, killing more than 480,000 people each year and costing the United States as much as $170 billion in health care expenditures. The American Heart Association has endorsed this legislation.

“By raising the tobacco purchase age to 21, we can reduce adolescent tobacco use, which will help combat addiction, stop long-term illness, and prevent premature deaths,” said Supervisor Wiener. “For decades we have seen the catastrophic health effects of tobacco use, and every day we spend millions of dollars treating people who suffer from an addiction which often starts in their teens. San Francisco can help lead a statewide and national movement to improve the health of our youth and save lives.”

Yerem Yeghiazarians, MD, and Greater Bay Area Board President of the American Heart Association said, “The American Heart Association is committed to the fight to save lives. Nearly 95% of smokers start smoking before 21 and we are supportive of public policies that limit access to tobacco products at all ages, especially those under 21.”

In 2009, Congress mandated a federal study as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to research the effects of raising the tobacco purchase age. Conducted by the Institute of Medicine, and released in early 2015, the study found that increasing the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21 would decrease national smoking rates by 12% and reduce youth initiation of smoking by 25%. The study also found that raising the minimum legal sales age would result in almost immediate reductions in preterm births, low birth weight babies, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

A study by the University of California San Francisco estimated that in 2009, the cost of smoking in San Francisco alone amounted to $380 million in direct health care costs and indirect costs from lost productivity and premature births.

“Research points to an increased susceptibility to the effects of nicotine on the developing adolescent brain,” said Mark Rubinstein, MD, an adolescent medicine specialist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco and researcher in adolescent nicotine addiction. “While there is no safe time for nicotine exposure, postponing exposure until after the brain is more fully developed, may reduce the chances for developing addiction.”

Bob Gordon, Co-Chair, San Francisco Tobacco-Free Coalition said, “Tobacco industry executives rely on getting teenagers addicted to nicotine at a young age. “By raising the tobacco purchase age to 21, tobacco companies would no longer have direct access to 18 to 20 year olds, and such a policy would reduce indirect access to youth under 18, many of whom currently tap 18 year olds in their high schools to purchase tobacco products for them.”

In 2014, New York City raised the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21. This year, the city of Healdsburg and Santa Clara County also raised the purchase age to 21, and the city of Berkeley is currently considering legislation to do the same. The state of Hawaii became the first state to increase the tobacco purchase age to 21 in the summer of 2015. A bill to raise the tobacco purchase age in the state of California stalled in the legislature this year.


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