Pediatricians: Raise Smoking Age To 21, Ban Flavored Tobacco, Restrict E-Cig Sales

Even though the percentage of smokers in the U.S. has been slashed by more than half over the last 50 years, smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death in the country. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes there are a number of steps that should be taken in order to prevent people from picking up the habit in the first place.

In a statement of public policy [PDF] released this morning, the organization calls for, among other changes, the smoking age to be increased to 21, a ban on flavored tobacco, and restrictions on marketing and sale of non-tobacco nicotine-delivery devices like e-cigarettes.

According to the document, nearly 9-in-10 adult smokers got their start before the age of 18, and “Middle and high school students often obtain their first tobacco products from older children.”

The organization hopes that making it more difficult for older teenagers to obtain cigarettes, they won’t be as likely to give their younger pals their first smoke.

One way that cigarette companies have long tried to make their products more palatable is with the use of flavored and menthol tobacco. The pediatricians believe that if you take away the tastier tobacco, it will discourage youth smoking.

“Flavoring agents, including menthol, cloves, fruit, and candy flavors, should be prohibited in tobacco products,” reads the policy statement.

Not only does flavored tobacco make it easier for young smokers to start, say the doctors, but those teens who begin with flavored and menthol smokes have a higher likelihood of becoming dependent on nicotine.

“Menthol flavoring is particularly hazardous to children,” argue the pediatricians. “Youth who initiate smoking with a menthol-flavored tobacco product are more likely to progress to dependence and to report higher levels of dependence.”

Electronic cigarettes, which are growing in popularity with younger Americans — some of whom have never smoked tobacco — are also of concern to the doctors.

“The promotion and sale of electronic nicotine delivery systems to youth should be prohibited by federal, state, and local regulations,” reads the statement, which argues for a ban on e-cig ads for “all media that can be viewed by youth, including broadcast, print,” and online. This ban should also, according to the doctors, be extended to sponsorships of sporting events, concerts, and other entertainment.

“Electronic nicotine delivery systems should be subject to the same restrictions on advertising and promotion at least as restrictive as that on combustible cigarettes,” explain the doctors. “Until government agencies institute these prohibitions, media companies, entertainment companies, sports teams, and promoters should voluntarily institute these prohibitions.”

Among other policy recommendations made by the pediatricians’ organization:

• Excluding the tobacco industry from development and implementation of tobacco education and control programs.

“The tobacco industry has a long track record of promoting programs that have been shown to be both ineffective and counterproductive,” reads the statement. “The tobacco industry has been particularly hostile to programs that tell the truth and threaten the image of their product.”

• Increasing prices on tobacco.

The statement calls for increases in taxes at the federal, state, and local level, in the hope that this additional cost will make smoking less accessible to minors.

• Restricting depictions of tobacco use in movies and other media.

“Depictions of tobacco products, tobacco product use, and images associated with tobacco product brands in movies and video games should be restricted,” say the doctors. “Movies with depictions of any tobacco product use should be given a minimum of an R rating. Movies, videos, video games, and other entertainment media with depictions of tobacco product use should be preceded by strong messages that tell the truth about the harms of tobacco in a manner that is personally relevant to the target audience. These messages should not be funded or otherwise supported or produced by the tobacco industry.”