Raise the age for tobacco

Tobacco use remains a significant public health scourge across the country. There are few places where the problem is more pronounced than Indiana.

U.S. Sen. Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, has joined forces with a bipartisan group of senators to attack the issue on a key front — by proposing a bill that would raise the federal minimum age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21.

It’s a good idea worthy of support. Our communities would benefit from having tobacco products more tightly controlled in this way.

In introducing the bill, Sen. Young contended that raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products is the best, more achievable step that can be taken to save lives and control the cost of health care.

"This is especially important in my home state of Indiana where tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death and disease," Sen. Young said. "In fact, the state of Indiana ranks 45th in the country in terms of tobacco usage. I know we can improve on that. With the advent of e-cigarettes and the uptake of vaping, especially among young Americans, it’s essential we act now."

Young has been joined in his legislative effort by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Hawaii Sen. Dick Schatz, both Democrats, and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican.

Their bill, the Tobacco to 21 Act, is supported by health organizations and advocates in Indiana and nationally.

Young cites compelling statistics in advocating his position.

"Indiana is ranked 45th in the nation in percentage of smokers, with a smoking rate of 21.8%. Taxpayers are paying the price for these health choices," Young stated in launching his effort. "Smoking leads to approximately $2.93 billion in annual health care costs in Indiana and $170 billion nationally. The vast majority of these costs are bore by Medicaid and Medicare."

What’s more, statistics show that e-cigarette usage by high school students increased by 900% between 2011 and 2015. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has declared vaping an "epidemic."

The concept is not new. A similar legislative proposal failed in the recent session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Young is hoping attacking the issue on the federal level will have more success. We hope he’s right.