Raising the Age to Purchase Tobacco: How RTs Can Help

image of woman making a purchase

It’s well known the vast majority of smokers first took up the habit when they were still in their teens. Raising the age at which people can purchase tobacco products has been seen as a key weapon in the battle to curtail smoking among young adults in our country.

AARC Member Sean Severson, MPH, RRT, added his voice to the mix last year by writing an op-ed piece in Minneapolis, MN, Post outlining all the reasons why the legal age to purchase tobacco in his state should be raised from 18 to 21.

“As a respiratory therapist practicing for over 10 years, I’ve seen firsthand the harm smoking can do,” said Severson, a respiratory therapist at C.O.R.E. Respiratory Services. “We can, and we should protect our young adults from tobacco products.”

Severson notes young people between the ages of 18 and 21 are more likely to take risks than adults 21 and older and that puts them at a significant disadvantage when it comes to resisting tobacco.

“Our society has precedents for creating laws that protect young adults who are vulnerable to other dangerous and impulsive behaviors such as alcohol consumption and gambling,” he said, noting society should do the same for tobacco.

He believes respiratory therapists have an important role to play in making that happen.

“Respiratory therapists are seen by our communities as experts on smoking-related illnesses,” he said. “We have both formal education and firsthand experience caring for people sickened by tobacco products. Many of those we care for started using tobacco products long before the consequences were fully understood.”

Severson says RTs can advocate for raising the age to purchase tobacco products by contacting their state lawmakers and encouraging them to sponsor legislation to that effect. They can also talk with community leaders to marshal support for the initiative and they can form coalitions with like-minded groups and individuals to work for the cause.

“Our voices have weight, and together we can move this important change forward!” he said.

Want to see how your state measures up when it comes to raising the age to purchase tobacco products? Tobacco21.org offers up-to-date information on the progress being made in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Check it out and then consider how you can add your voice to the efforts being made in your state to ensure fewer young adults pick up the habit.