Indiana Minority Health Coalition supports Tobacco 21, but says other measures needed

Teenagers who are determined can usually find a way to get their hands on forbidden fruit, but the Tobacco 21 initiative—which would raise the age of purchasing tobacco products and nicotine-containing vaping products in Indiana to 21— could possibly reduce the number of teens who smoke, as well as the number of potential adult smokers who can’t quit because their habits are so well established.

However, “There needs to be robust law enforcement,” says Tony Gillespie, vice president for public policy and engagement at the Indiana Minority Health Coalition.

Gillespie said in a telephone interview with the Indiana Business Daily that convenience stores and small stores in minority neighborhoods in particular would need to be subject to rigorous law enforcement.

That would include sales related to electronic cigarettes, which are promoted as a safe alternative for adult smokers but, especially in flavored versions, are increasingly popular with teens. In 2018, according to an Indiana Public Media report, one in five high school students engaged in vaping and their numbers keep growing. Gillespie said there has been a recent 78 percent increase among high school users and the product extends even to middle schools.

“They are a tobacco product,” Gillespie said. “They are not always seen that way, but they are a gateway.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, most e-cigarettes deliver nicotine, a highly addictive substance, and thus teens who vape are at high risk of becoming adults who smoke. In the meantime, they also experience physical and developmental damage from the nicotine itself.

“We support Tobacco 21,” Gillespie said, but he noted that in his view other measures are also needed. Among them would be an increase in the cigarette tax (studies have shown that a price increase is effective in reducing smoking, especially among youths), with the extra revenue going directly into education and other efforts to combat smoking, not into the general fund.

Comprehensive education, he said, would combat some popular beliefs, such as that some products are safer.

“Significant advertising (of tobacco products) was always directed to minority communities,” he said, “and we are finding that hasn’t changed.”

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