The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust and TSET Healthy Living Program serving Cherokee County this month are celebrating the two-year anniversary of an Oklahoma state law that raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21.
Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law on May 20, 2020, five months after the federal Tobacco-Free Youth Act raised the legal age nationally in December 2019. Oklahoma lawmakers said passing a state law to align with federal law helps with enforcement and avoids public confusion about the legal age.
It’s also a critical health issue. About 7,500 Oklahomans die each year from their own smoking, and smoking-related health care costs in our state top $1.6 billion annually. Nearly nine in 10 U.S. adult smokers started by age 18, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many transition to becoming daily smokers before age 21.
Raising the legal age for buying any tobacco product, including highly addictive e-cigarettes, will save lives and money in our state now and over the long run, said TSET Executive Director Julie Bisbee.
“To achieve a tobacco free future, we have to keep youth from starting down the road of tobacco and nicotine addiction,” said Bisbee. “People who start using tobacco at a younger age are more likely to have a harder time quitting. Tobacco 21 supports the most effective way to avoid a nicotine addiction – never starting.”
Federal and state Tobacco 21 laws may already be helping. The CDC has reported the number of middle and high school students who use any type of tobacco product, including those for vaping, decreased by more than 1.7 million from 2019 to 2020.
Lora Buechele, the TSET Healthy Living Program coordinator in Cherokee County, said the passing of Oklahoma’s Tobacco 21 law was important for bolstering local efforts to improve health, especially among kids and teens.
“That was a landmark day for protecting the health and future of our children and teens,” said Buechele. “But our commitment to further reduce tobacco use, especially in public places and among youth, continues because we care deeply about the good health for our communities.”
TSET currently funds 28 Healthy Living Program grants that serve 30 counties throughout Oklahoma. The TSET HLP serving Cherokee County is working with community partners and leaders to strengthen the impact of Tobacco 21 laws and protect local residents from secondhand smoke and vapor in public places. Buechele said these include: reducing youth access to tobacco through policy adoption, retail education visits, and tobacco compliance checks across Cherokee County. Support for organizations and tobacco retailers to adopt voluntary policy that prohibits the acceptance of tobacco sponsorships and advertising. Placement of health messaging for the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline at the point of sale in tobacco retail outlets.
“We chose these particular strategies to take down tobacco based on local health data and the input we received from a wide variety of Cherokee County residents through community needs surveys,” said Buechele. “We are eager to build on the momentum created by federal and state Tobacco 21 laws to create healthier environments at the local level.”
To learn more about the TSET Healthy Living Program in Cherokee County, contact Lora Buechele at [email protected] More information about TSET’s statewide health efforts can be found at www.tset.ok.gov.