Tobacco

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California Considers Raising Smoking Age to 21

Ninety percent of current smokers tried their first cigarette before turning 18. (Dave Whelan/Flickr)

Ninety percent of current smokers tried their first cigarette before turning 18. (Dave Whelan/Flickr)

State lawmakers want to raise the legal smoking age in California from 18 to 21, arguing the change would reduce smoking rates overall and lower health care costs associated with tobacco use.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) introduced Senate Bill 151 on Thursday, saying the new legislation would increase protection for kids under 18 as well.

“It is much easier for someone who is 17 to get cigarettes from a friend who is 18,” he said. “Someone who is 21 is more likely to be in the workforce or in college, and unlikely to have a younger set of friends.”

Studies show that 90 percent of current smokers tried their first cigarette before turning 18. About 95 percent tried smoking before age 21.

“The ages between 18 to 21 are such a critical period because that’s when a lot of smokers move from that experimental smoking period to being regular, daily smokers,” said Lindsey Freitas, senior director at the American Lung Association in California.

If passed, California would be the first state in the country to raise the minimum smoking age to 21. New York City and Healdsburg (Sonoma County) have done so on the municipal level.

Several states rejected similar proposals last year, including Utah, Maryland and Colorado.

Rep. Daniel Kagan opposed a bill in Colorado, saying 18-year-olds are adults who should be persuaded not to smoke, not banned from smoking.

“Do we tell them, you may not do this, we’re going to stop them? Or do we urge them to take responsibility for their actions and treat them like adults?” the Democrat said at the time. “I come down on the side of treating 18-to-20-year-olds like adults.”

Altria Group Inc, an umbrella company that includes tobacco brands like Philip Morris, Marlboro, Parliament and Virginia Slims, did not respond to a request for comment.

The company has opposed past state efforts to raise the minimum smoking age beyond 18, and urged waiting until the results become available from a study by the Food and Drug Administration on the public health implications of raising the smoking age. The findings are due to Congress this year.

Using Both Phone Support and Websites Help Smokers Kick the Habit

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

If you’re resolved to quit smoking this year, it’s arguably the one best thing you could do for your health. But it’s not easy, so every bit of help is a good thing.

People who used both state-sponsored telephone quit lines and newer Web-based services to quit smoking were more successful, compared with people who just used one service, a study finds.

That might be because using the two different kinds of help makes it easier to quit, according to the study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published Wednesday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Or it could mean that they’re more motivated, the researchers say — motivated enough to track down and try the different tools. Continue reading

Too Young to Buy Tobacco, But Not Too Young to Pick It

A Human Rights Watch study found that most children working in tobacco field got sick with nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness. (Getty Images)

A Human Rights Watch study found that most children working in tobacco fields got sick with nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness. (Getty Images)

By Debbie Elliott, NPR

Kids under 18 can’t buy cigarettes in the U.S., but they can legally work in tobacco fields when they’re as young as 12.

One of those kids is Eddie Ramirez, 15, who works the fields in the summer.

“The rows are narrow and the tobacco is really big. You just feel like you’re suffocating or can’t breathe really well.” – Eddie Ramirez, 15 

“It just sticks to my hand,” he says of the plant. “It’s really sticky, you know, and really yellow.” It’s nearly impossible to wash off, he says.

new report from Human Rights Watch says the practice of children farming tobacco is hazardous and should be stopped. The group interviewed more than 140 kids in 2012 and 2013, including Eddie, who work on tobacco farms in the South.

From the sparse mobile home he shares with his mother in Snow Hill, N.C., Eddie describes feeling lightheaded and queasy after a 12-hour day in the tobacco fields. Continue reading

Health Care Overhaul’s Consumer Protections Pass California Legislature

(seliaymiwell/flickr)

(seliaymiwell/flickr)

Reforms to the individual health insurance market passed out of the Assembly and Senate in Sacramento on Thursday. Included in the bills were popular consumer provisions including: guaranteed issue, requiring insurers to cover all who apply; and rate setting rules that will make it illegal to charge people with pre-existing conditions more than anyone else or redline those conditions.

From here, the Assembly bill, AB 1X 2, will be heard in the Senate. The Senate’s bill, SB 1X 2, heads to the Assembly.

The bills are moving through a special session of the legislature. The Legislature is working to pass bills to bring the state in line with the requirements of the federal health care overhaul, the Affordable Care Act.

Assemblymember Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), chair of the Assembly Health committee, authored AB 1X 2. “I’m certainly happy it passed,” Pan said in an interview. “It showed the legislature understands the nature of these historic reforms that we’re putting place for California.” Continue reading

Video: Anti-Tobacco Advocate Debi Austin, Appeared in ‘Voicebox’ Commercial, Dies at 62

I remembered the commercial instantly:

Debi Austin appeared in the ad in 1996. In a raspy voice, she described starting smoking at age 13. Then declaring, “They say nicotine isn’t addictive,” she took a drag from her cigarette through a stoma, a hole in her throat which permitted her to breathe. “How can they say that?” she concluded.

For years, she worked to keep kids from smoking. She died last week after fighting various cancers for more than 20 years.

From a release from the California Department of Public Health:

“We are saddened by Debi’s death. She exemplified the real toll tobacco takes on a person’s body,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Ron Chapman. “Debi was a pioneer in the fight against tobacco and showed tremendous courage by sharing her story to educate Californians on the dangers of smoking. She was an inspiration for Californians to quit smoking and also influenced countless others not to start. We trust she will continue to touch those that hear her story, particularly teens and young adults. She will be greatly missed.”

Tobacco Free California says this about Austin on its website (where you can also watch a video about her):

Debi Austin started smoking at the age of 13. She continued to smoke through a stoma in her throat even after being diagnosed with cancer and having her larynx removed at the age of 42. But, Debi fought back. She starred in an iconic television ad for the California Tobacco Control Program, quit smoking and has made anti-tobacco education not only her mission in life, but her passion.

Penalty on Smokers Can Spell Higher Premiums under Health Overhaul

Legislator planning law to limit penalty in California

A little-known provision in the Affordable Care Act permits insurers to charge higher premiums to smokers. (Dave Whelan: Flickr)

A little-known provision in the Affordable Care Act permits insurers to charge higher premiums to smokers. (Dave Whelan: Flickr)

WASHINGTON (AP) Millions of smokers could be priced out of health insurance because of tobacco penalties in President Barack Obama’s health care law, according to experts who are just now teasing out the potential impact of a little-noted provision in the massive legislation.

The Affordable Care Act — also known as “Obamacare” — allows health insurers to charge smokers buying individual policies up to 50 percent higher premiums starting next Jan. 1.

For a 55-year-old smoker, the penalty could reach nearly $4,250 a year. A 60-year-old could wind up paying nearly $5,100 on top of premiums.

For a 55-year-old smoker, the penalty could reach nearly $4,250 a year.
Younger smokers could be charged lower penalties under rules proposed last fall by the Obama administration. But older smokers could face a heavy hit on their household budgets at a time in life when smoking-related illnesses tend to emerge.

Workers covered on the job would be able to avoid tobacco penalties by joining smoking cessation programs, because employer plans operate under different rules. But experts say that option is not guaranteed to smokers trying to purchase coverage individually. Continue reading

California Spends Less Than 4 Cents of Every Tobacco Dollar to Reduce Tobacco Use

By Joshua Johnson and Lisa Aliferis

(Raul Lieberwirth/Flickr)

Tobacco prevention advocates are calling on California to spend more on anti-smoking programs — especially since the state already has the money for it.

A new report published Thursday titled Broken Promises to Our Children looked nationwide at how states are spending the money from the 1998 master settlement agreement with cigarette companies and from states’ tobacco taxes.

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which published the analysis, says states spend only a “minuscule portion” or tobacco revenue on cessation and prevention programs. The group estimates California will get $1.6 billion this year in tobacco revenue, but will spend just $62 million on smoking prevention and cessation efforts. Nationwide, states spend just two percent of their total tobacco revenue on prevention and cessation.

“California and other states have shown that these tobacco prevention/cessation programs more than pay for themselves,” said Danny McGoldrick, vice-president for research with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. “When we cut them and reverse our progress in reducing smoking, we’re actually costing the state money, because we’re going to have more costs related to treating tobacco-caused disease.” His group estimates health care costs to treat tobacco-caused diseases total $9 billion in California. Continue reading

Quick Read: All UC Campuses to be Smoke-Free

“As a national leader in healthcare and environmental practices, the University of California is ready to demonstrate leadership in reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke,” Yudof said in the letter. “Offering a smoke-­free environment will contribute positively to the health and well-being of all UC students, faculty, staff, and our patients and visitors.”

U.C. Berkeley’s The Daily Californian has the full report.