Experts: Raise Legal Smoking Age to 21, Be Cautious About Hand Sanitizers

Hundreds of Thousands of Lives Would Be Saved, Report Says

Across most states and communities, the legal age to buy tobacco products is 18, but raising that minimum age to 21 would save hundreds of thousands of lives and help further lower the number of smokers significantly, according to a new report by a panel of experts that advises U.S. health agencies.

Raising the so-called “minimum age of legal access” (MLA) would result in 249,000 fewer premature deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, and 12 percent fewer smokers by 2100, says the report released Thursday by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an advisory committee to health officials.

In 2013, following a request by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the IOM convened a committee to study the public health implications of raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products.

“The initiation age of tobacco use is critical,” the report’s summary states. “Among adults who become daily smokers, approximately 90 percent report first use of cigarettes before reaching 19 years of age, and almost 100 percent report first use before age 26.

Most states currently set the MLA at 18 years of age. Four states — Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah — set it at 19 years, and several local governments around the country have already set the minimum age at 21. The IOM advises FDA, but the U.S. agency cannot raise the MLA nationwide, the panel says. “However, states and localities can set a higher minimum age for their communities,” the IOM urges.

The advisory committee found that there would be about 3 percent fewer smokers by 2100 if the age were raised to 19, and 16 percent fewer smokers if the age were increased to 25.

The committee says it is “reasonably confident that raising the MLA will reduce tobacco use initiation, particularly among adolescents 15 to 17 years of age; improve the health of Americans across the lifespan; and save lives.”

See more articles on smoking’s impact on health:

  • Smokeout: Reclaim Your Health by Quitting Now
  • Improving Your Odds Against Lung Cancer
  • 50 Years Later: Anti-Smoking Campaign Still Saving Lives

  • —- John Fernandez

    CDC: Select Hand Sanitizers With Care

    Do you know the clean facts about hand sanitizers? Remember: Using soap and water is the No. 1 option for hand-washing. The next-best option is to use alcohol-based sanitizers that are at least 60 percent alcohol, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    “Many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95 percent are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers,” the CDC reports.

    There are other potential hazards associated with non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Evidence shows that non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers could lead to bacterial resistance, a situation in which germs develop resistance to cleansing agents.

    “When hands are heavily soiled or greasy, hand sanitizers may not work well. Hand-washing with soap and water is recommended in such circumstances,” the CDC says.

  • Protection from Travel Infection
  • Safe Shopping: Clean Hands, Clean Food
  • Germy Checkpoints: At Home and Work
  • Infection Protection
  • –Sharon Harvey Rosenberg

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