New smoking age takes effect Jan. 1
(Photo: Frank San Nicolas/PDN)
With the start of the new year, it will be illegal for those under age 21 to smoke cigarettes or vape.
Some people who aren’t 21 say the law isn’t fair to people legally considered adults.
Public Law 34-01, which was unanimously passed the Legislature and lapsed into law without the governor’s signature in March, will increase the minimum age of legal access to tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to 21 years of age effective Jan. 1, 2018.
The penalty for those who violate the law is a mandatory education program that includes smoking cessation administered by the government of Guam, the law states.
Cristopher Naputi, 20, thinks the increase in the legal smoking age is ridiculous even if the impact to him is minimal. A smoker since 18, he will turn 21 in August.
“I don’t like it. Everyone has an opinion about it, but (smoking’s) not hurting anybody. I understand if it’s like drinking,” he said.
“They sign up at a young age” and face the possibility of going to war, he said.
Naputi doesn’t plan to do anything illegal, and said the eight-month lull could be a good time to quit smoking, even if he did not plan for it. When he turns 21, Naputi said, he will decide if he wants to pick up his habit again.
Johnny Lujan, who turned 18 in April, said if he can be charged as an adult he should be able to make adult decisions like smoking. If he’s required to sign up to be possibly drafted into the military and is allowed to vote legally because he’s considered an adult, he doesn’t see why he can’t smoke.
“It’s really dumb,” he said.
Lujan vapes as an alternative to smoking cigarettes after having problems with quitting tobacco. He said vaping feels better than smoking cigarettes as there aren’t as many toxins, such as tar, and he can control it more.
And if someone who’s considered an adult wants to take the risk of affecting their health by smoking or vaping, it should be their choice,” he said.
“It just seems really dumb,” he said.
Lujan said it takes a freedom away that adults should be able to have if they choose to do it. He said he thinks if lawmakers want to raise the legal age to smoke to 21, they should also change the legal age to be an adult to 21 too.
“I can go commit a crime and be charged as an adult, but I can’t smoke?” he asked.
Although the bill is supposed to deter young people from smoking, Lujan thinks the only thing the bill will do is increase the amount of people who smoke illegally, because people will smoke regardless of the law. People under 18 already smoke and changing the law to 21 will only make people smoke illegally, he said.
Youths wanted it
Speaker Benjamin Cruz, D-Tumon, who wrote the bill, said the bill became law because of Guam’s youths. He said young adults signed petitions, wrote legislative testimony, spoke at public hearings and lobbied senators directly to get the bill passed.
“This bill became law because of young people, not in spite of them,” Cruz said.
He said young men and women understood that increasing the age of access is cost-effective at saving lives and money.
“The earlier you start smoking, the less likely you are to quit. As long as it costs 50 times more to treat a patient who’s made the choice to smoke compared to a patient who hasn’t, it’s the entire community, not just the individual, who pays for that choice,” he said.
Local insurance company Staywell, in a written testimony, stated a patient who is 65 years old or older and a non-smoker with a chronic illness would use about $9,466 worth of health care services in a year. Those who are smokers with cancer of the bronchus or lung had health care costs of $480,954.
‘Victory for children’
Cruz said he’s thankful that the law will soon take effect and thanked everyone involved in getting it passed.
“Without the help and hard work of so many community advocates, students, and medical professionals we wouldn’t be here. Just a few years ago this effort would have been unimaginable to my predecessors, but thanks to the courage of my colleagues and the faith of countless others, we won a victory for children I will never meet,” he said.
Cruz said he wrote the law to save lives, save money and protect a new generation of Guam’s children from a lifetime of addiction.
“Cigarettes are one of the only legal products in America that when used entirely as directed will kill people. The time to quit is always right now,” he said.
Smoking rates in the island have declined in the last few years, but remain higher than the national average, according to the American Cancer Society. Guam’s smoking rate is 27.4 percent, higher than national average of 17.5 percent. And one in three local high school students uses electronic cigarettes, the organization said.
Health care professionals who supported the bill to change the smoking age cited a March 2015 Institute of Medicine report that projected tobacco use in the nation would drop by 12 percent if the legal smoking age was raised to 21.