It is a relatively well-known fact that most smokers begin the habit while in their teens. And, while the number of teen smokers has decreased for the first time since the 1970s, there are still brand new smokers every year. Pediatricians now want lawmakers to do something to fix the problem.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a very direct new policy statement requesting that lawmakers raise the minimum age that people can buy nicotine products to age 21. This includes e-cigarettes.

According to a report released this spring by the Institute of Medicine, the health benefits of prohibiting people under the age of 21 from buying nicotine products could be unparalleled, including “4.2 million fewer years of life lost” among the next generation of adults in the United States.

The study also posited that setting a nationwide new minimum age would result in almost 250,000 fewer premature deaths and 50,000 less deaths related to lung cancer among those born between 2000 and 2019.

Teenagers are the most vulnerable to becoming addicted to nicotine when their brains are still developing, especially between the ages of 15-17.

The United States Food and Drug Administration requested that the study be conducted and asked that researchers predict the benefits of raising the minimum age for buying tobacco-containing products (which is currently 18 in most states) to 19, 21 and 25 years. The research indicates that the greatest health benefits would come if the legal age was raised to 25, at which point the prevalence of teen smokers would decline by 16%.

However, the number of people estimated to never begin smoking if the age limit was raised to 21 – would still fall significantly – by 12%.

The AAP called the report “a crucial contribution to the debate on tobacco access for young people. Tobacco is unique among consumer products in that it severely injures and kills when used exactly as intended. Protecting children from tobacco products is one of the most important things that a society can do to protect children’s health.”

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