By Edwin Folven, 8/29/2013
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, has authored a motion to raise the age for purchasing tobacco products to 21. The councilman said it could eliminate a majority of new smokers in the city, prevent millions of dollars spent annually on healthcare for smokers and could prevent countless deaths.
The motion was introduced last week and calls on the Los Angeles city attorney to draft an ordinance that will be considered later this year. Koretz, who has authored multiple anti-tobacco laws during his tenure as a former West Hollywood City Councilman and California State Assemblyman, said he believes anti-smoking sentiment has risen to a level that the council and the general public would support such a law.
“I think the chances are reasonable. I am optimistic it will pass,” Koretz said. “It has just been introduced so it will take a while to go through the process. I expect in three to four months we will see it on the council floor.”
The councilman said the new proposal mirrors a similar measure he authored in the State Assembly during the early 2000s. That measure received a significant amount of initial support, but was eventually dropped after lawmakers couldn’t come to terms on whether the age for tobacco purchase should be raised to 21 or 19.
Koretz said he authored the motion based on data from the American Lung Association that indicates 90 percent of lifelong smokers begin smoking before the age of 21. He added that the general transition for an experimental smoker into a habitual smoker occurs around age 20.
“In theory, it could have a huge public health impact,” Koretz added. “Nobody becomes an addicted smoker after the age of 21, and if you can keep people from purchasing tobacco before the age of 21, it could virtually eliminate the habit. It’s a habit I would love to see ended someday.”
Koretz said both of his parents, as well as some other family members, passed away prematurely from smoking-related illnesses. He said that has made protecting others from harm caused by tobacco a personal issue.
“Just about every member of my family who smoked died between the ages of forty and their early sixties. Family members who didn’t smoke lived to a ripe old age, some in their hundreds,” Koretz added. “One of my relatives who died at forty was a chain smoker, and it haunted me over the years.”
The councilman referred to an article published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine that states teens and young adults under age 21 are more receptive to the addictive effects of nicotine. The study also cited that one in three youths who become regular smokers will eventually die from a smoking-related illness.
“There is no doubt about it. Raising the age will prevent thousands of people from taking up the habit,” he said.
No other major city in the United States has approved a law raising the age for tobacco purchases to 21, but Koretz said some small cities in Massachusetts, such as Needham, have passed such a law. He said a study conducted in Massachusetts indicates that the number of Needham High School students who started smoking declined from 13 percent to 5.5 percent in the years since the law passed in 2005.
“If a big city like Los Angeles did it, it would be a huge breakthrough,” Koretz added. “We will save the city and the county countless millions in healthcare costs, and it will save a lot of lives.”