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For Immediate Release: March 1, 2016

Contact: Jessica Berthold, jessica@preventioninstitute.org; 510-444-7738, ext. 317

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 from 18, including e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

"We applaud these local leaders for defending prevention," said Larry Cohen, executive director and founder of Prevention Institute. "Tobacco is still the number-one killer, and restricting access helps decrease the likelihood that people will get hooked in the first place."

Ninety percent of daily smokers pick up the habit before age 19, and 95% of adult smokers picked up the habit before age 21, according to a 2015 Institute of Medicine report. The report also found that raising the smoking age to 21 would prevent or delay teens from using tobacco products—and that the biggest reduction would likely occur among teens ages 15-17.

“These younger teens can’t legally buy tobacco products in California now, but are likely to have contacts age 18+ who can buy tobacco for them illegally. By raising the age to 21, those legal buyers are moved outside the social network of most young teenagers,” Mr. Cohen said.

It’s particularly important that this vote includes e-cigarettes, Mr. Cohen added.

“The tobacco industry likes to portray e-cigarettes as a helpful tool to quit smoking tobacco, or an alternative to tobacco, but e-cigarettes are far from harmless.  What’s more, the e-cigarette manufacturers clearly target children with their candy flavoring and advertising,” Mr. Cohen said.

Raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 will complement other strategies to cut tobacco use among children and young adults, such as higher tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws covering worksites and public places, he added.

Prevention Institute is an Oakland, California-based nonprofit research, policy, and action center that works nationally to promote prevention, health, and equity by fostering community and policy change so that all people live in healthy, safe environments.