Paul’s Note: Prevent Youth Addiction, Raise Tobacco Sales Age to 21

Paul’s Note: Prevent Youth Addiction, Raise Tobacco Sales Age to 21

By Ward 3 Council Member Paul Durham and Pima County Superintendent of Schools Dustin Williams


The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writers.

Youth vaping rates are rising exponentially in southern Arizona and across the country. This week, Tucson and Pima County have a chance to do something about it.

On August 6 at the Board of Supervisors and city council meetings, both bodies will decide on a critical issue facing youth in our community: whether to raise the minimum legal sales age for tobacco and nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21.

Tobacco 21, as this proposal is known, is an evidence-based public health approach to combating the youth vaping epidemic. It's simple. Research shows that 95% of smokers start before they turn 21. Most high schoolers are 18 when they graduate and most kids who smoke or vape get the products from older classmates.

The most dangerous part of the equation is that the teenage brain is especially susceptible to, and is more damaged by, nicotine addiction.

By raising the minimum age to 21, we eliminate this direct pipeline of products into our high schools and prevent a new generation of youth from becoming addicted to these products.

This idea isn't revolutionary 18 states and hundreds of cities and counties across the country have adopted Tobacco 21.

Locally, recent polling shows that 68% of Tucsonans and 64% of Pima County residents support Tobacco 21.

Protecting kids from harmful products isn't a partisan issue, it's a common-sense issue that doctors, educators and parents can all agree on.

As Pima County School Superintendent, student health and well-being is paramount. I routinely hear from educators, parents and students about the epidemic of vaping in our schools. We, as a community, must band together and protect our future.

Vaping has infected our schools and the outcomes are deadly. This epidemic is having an impact on our children's education and, more importantly, their lives.

As the Tucson City Council member representing Ward 3, I invited students from Empire High School to testify before the City Council to hear directly from those most affected by the proliferation of youth vaping. When kids as young as freshmen told stories of classmates trying to sell them JUULs during gym class, I knew that we had to do something, and I'm thankful that my colleagues on the Tucson City Council and I voted unanimously to explore the feasibility of Tobacco 21.

After over a dozen public meetings with the County Health Department, retailers and other stakeholders, the plan that is before the Council and the Board of Supervisors is a compromise plan to achieve the same goal we all agree with: preventing youth addiction.

In June, the Star reported an increase in the number of stores caught selling tobacco products to minors, including one tobacco retailer located down the street from Flowing Wells High School that has failed six inspections in the last four years. That's unacceptable and that will change under the city and county's proposed Tobacco 21 policy, which will ensure that bad actors who sell to kids can't continue their unlawful behavior.

Want to help? Contact your supervisor or City Council member and let them know you care about the health of our youth.