“I’ll tell you why I like the cigarette business… It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It’s addictive,” Buffett said.
For those reasons, profiteers continue preying on children and young people with products that addict them. Most young people who smoke or vape become customers for life of Big Tobacco or the newly established Big Vape. Even routine attempts to quit typically involve the purchase of patches, gum or other nicotine “good luck quitting” products.
Few begin nicotine addiction as an adult, armed with the maturity to see it as a ball-and-chain of expense and future health problems. The Centers for Disease Control reports 9 of 10 smokers began their habits as teenagers younger than 18. A whopping 98% began before age 26. The agency reports the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 3.6 million in 2018 to 5.4 million in 2019 — an increase of about 1.8 million youths.
One thing seems perfectly clear. If the tobacco industry does not get ‘em while they’re young, they don’t get ‘em at all. The industry cannot survive on the 2% of customers who develop additions as full-fledged adults.
As such, it does everything possible to hook children on its products. It talks a good game about trying to stop teen smoking and vaping while marketing products with candy and fruit flavors and messages that appeal to youthful desires to fit in and be cool.
Until recently, it could sell its products to consumers the day they turn 18. That’s useful because 18-year-olds roam the halls of high schools and provide tobacco products to younger teens who are even easier to hook.
It is and always has been an industry that preys on our youths, with no motive other than profit.
President Donald Trump last year signed a bill that raises the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. The law takes effect this summer. It is a good first step in stopping a heretofore intractable epidemic of addiction that leads to lung cancer and an array of other health problems.
Although we applaud the change in federal law, it likely won’t be enforced. That is because the federal government does not have ground-level agencies to enforce laws at every business that retails nicotine. State, county and local cops don’t enforce federal laws.
If federal laws worked at the state and local level, Colorado would not host businesses that openly produce and retail marijuana — a substance forbidden by federal law for people of all ages.
Colorado House Bill 1001, if passed and signed into law, would help children avoid addiction and save lives throughout Colorado. The bipartisan bill, passed out of committee last week, would bring Colorado’s legal tobacco age in line with the new federal age limit.
Unlike 18-year-olds, 21-year-old nicotine consumers do not typically attend high school and mingle with children as young as 15. The law won’t prevent all nicotine access for young teens but should substantially curtail it. A state law is something state, county and local law enforcement agencies can and will enforce.
There can be no rational argument for teenagers buying products that bond them to lives of addiction. Don’t even start with the red herring that says people old enough to fight wars should have access to cigarettes. Military service should not make anyone the target of a depraved industry pushing addiction.
The Legislature should quickly pass this life-saving bill for the governor to sign.
The Gazette Editorial Board