In a press release issued last week, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has called on state and local governments throughout the country to raise the legal purchase age for cigarettes from age 18 to age 21. This recommendation comes on the heels of an Institute of Medicine report which concluded that raising the legal age to 21 nationally would reduce smoking prevalence by 12% and smoking-related deaths by 10%.
In urging states and localities to raise the legal purchase age to 21, the Campaign cited a 1986 Philip Morris document which "made it clear decades ago that the industry knew a higher age of sale
would hurt the peddling of its deadly products. “Raising the legal
minimum age for cigarette purchaser to 21 could gut our key young adult
market (17-20),” that report noted."
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids writes: "The ages of 18 to 21 are a critical period when many smokers move from
experimental smoking to regular, daily use. While half of adult smokers
become daily smokers before 18, four out of five do so before they turn
21. Increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 will help prevent these young
people from ever starting to smoke."
The Rest of the Story
So how is the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids being disingenuous?
What they fail to tell you in this press release is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids actively prevented the FDA from raising the age of cigarette sales nationally to anything above 18! The Campaign agreed to this restriction - which completely ties the FDA's hands - in order to appease Philip Morris when it was negotiating the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
So the rest of the story is that it is thanks to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids that the FDA does not have the authority to raise the legal sales age for cigarettes. And this is the reason why the Campaign is calling for action at the state and local level, rather than at the national level. Given that the FDA supposedly has regulatory jurisdiction over cigarettes, that agency should obviously have the authority to regulate the age of sale for tobacco products. But the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids took away that authority in order to appease Philip Morris, the very company whose document the Campaign cites in its press release as opposing such a move because it would significantly hurt its sales.
The truth of the matter is that in appeasing Philip Morris and tying the hands of the FDA, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids did more to protect cigarette sales than anything Big Tobacco could have dreamed for. Now, instead of the FDA being able to respond to the IOM report by increasing the legal age to 21, the Campaign has to try to go state-by-state and city-by-city to convince hundreds of localities to enact such a measure. Obviously, a measure like this is only going to be feasible and effective if it is enacted at the federal level. It was the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids which made that an impossibility.
More than any other group (with the exception of Philip Morris), the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has helped to protect cigarette sales and make sure that the next generation will not be tobacco-free. Yet they have the gall to pretend to be a great protector of children's health, while hiding from the public the fact that they were the ones who actually prevented the next generation from being tobacco-free by ensuring that the age of cigarette sales could not be raised to 21 nationally.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids could not be more disingenuous if it tried.