It shouldn’t be new information to anyone that smoking is bad for our health. Even so, tobacco use continues to be the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the United States.

Cigarette smoking causes nearly one in five deaths each year in the United States. Smoking can harm nearly every organ of the body, cause many diseases, and affect a person’s overall health. Smokers are two to four times more likely than nonsmokers to develop heart disease or stroke, and 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer. If no one smoked, one out of every three cancer deaths in the United States would not happen. In addition, smoking can cause lung diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, by damaging your airways.

Smoking by youth and young adults can cause serious and potentially deadly health issues. Exposure to nicotine can have lasting effects on adolescent brain development. Cigarette smoking also causes children and teens to be short of breath and to have less stamina, both of which can affect athletic performance and other physically active pursuits. Young people who smoke are in danger of:

• addiction to nicotine,

• reduced lung function,

• reduced lung growth, and

• early cardiovascular damage.

Despite popular belief, electronic nicotine delivery devices (ENDS), such as electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), vape pens, and e-hookahs, are not harmless either. These devices deliver nicotine through an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs the same way cigarette smoke is. So far, there are limited studies on the health effects of long-term use of e-cigarettes and other ENDS and whether the use of ENDS leads to cigarette smoking by youth. However, nicotine is known to be addictive, toxic to developing fetuses, and harmful to adolescent brain development, so no youth should use e-cigarettes or any other tobacco product.

Nearly all tobacco use begins during youth and progresses during young adulthood. Ninety-five percent of all adult smokers start smoking before age 21. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3,800 children age 18 or younger smoke their first cigarette every day, and those who have had their first cigarette by age 18 are most likely to become lifelong smokers, creating lifelong health issues.

Hoping to curb underage smoking and keep teens from ever starting, the City of Independence has joined Hawaii and over 100 cities and counties in eight states, including Wyandotte County, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, in raising the tobacco sale age to 21.

This ordinance protects young people from tobacco addiction and saves lives by banning the sale of tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, and vapor products to anyone under the age of 21. Youth and young adults are the age groups when nearly all smoking begins and that are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. The higher legal age for smoking could delay the initiation rate in two ways. First, it will prevent 18- to 20-year-olds from legally purchasing cigarettes. Second, it can affect younger groups, particularly 15- to 17-year-olds, by limiting their access to friends and family who can buy cigarettes legally. By decreasing the number of eligible buyers in high school, this action will help reduce youth smoking by decreasing the access of students to tobacco products.

The Independence City Council voted on Dec. 21, to amend the current ordinance to raise the age from 18 to 21 for the purchase or sale of tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, or vapor products. The ordinance will go into effect March 1.

Several studies have shown decreases in high school smoking rates when the tobacco sales age goes to 21, and a recently released CDC poll shows that 75 percent of Americans support raising the age to 21, including 70 percent of smokers. The new ordinance will apply to all tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, and vapor products within the Independence city limits.

The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City has given money to the Missouri Tobacco Quitline to help those who are affected by the ordinance change quit smoking, so, if you need help, call the Quitline for free at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669. If you have any questions regarding the ordinance change, contact the Independence Health Department at 816-325-7185.

Information from: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/. 

Andrew Warlen, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.