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January 21st, 2016:

Raising cigarette-buying age to 21 a new strategy in fighting addiction

Teens and young adults are likely to stop smoking — or never start — if they have to ask those 21 and older to buy cigarettes for them.

That’s the premise of research that supports a new plan put forth by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco.

Experts say the approach is gaining traction around the country after a recent study estimated such laws would discourage smoking at an age when many people first get addicted. Chicago would join a list of more than 100 cities nationwide to raise the legal age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21.

Emanuel introduced the legislation in the Chicago City Council Jan. 13. The bill bundles the age provision with tax hikes on cigars, roll-your-own cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

“Older smokers have a higher quit rate than younger smokers. Older smokers are more likely to get treatment,” said Carol Southard, a tobacco treatment specialist at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern Medicine.

“The literature has been so consistent that if we can (delay) the kid from starting in the first place, or at least get the kid to stop before they’re 21, we’ve done something significant.”

Most states long ago set the legal tobacco age at 18, but a March 2015 study from the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., sparked a new look at the issue.

That study concluded that raising the minimum age to 21 would help delay when young adults and adolescents start using tobacco. Almost 90 percent of adult daily smokers say they began smoking before they were 19, according to the study.

Researchers said 21 as a minimum age would be particularly effective because young people who are unable to buy tobacco are most likely to get the products from friends and peers. It is less likely a 21-year-old would be in the same social circles as high school or middle school students, and thus able to provide cigarettes, according to the report.

The researchers’ model predicts that if all states immediately raised the minimum age to 21, there would be a 12 percent decrease in tobacco use among today’s teenagers by the time they become adults.

Young adult smokers who were stopping for a puff at DePaul University on Friday offered mixed responses to the idea.

A 19-year-old said the change might make her kick the habit she picked up when she started college last fall. The woman declined to give her name because her parents don’t know that she smokes.

“I wouldn’t go out of my way to get people (21 and over) to buy them for me,” she said.

Robert Davis, 19, said he would welcome the restriction on his peers. Davis, a nonsmoker, said he thinks it would cut down the number of classmates and friends that smoke — and, as a result, cut down on how many times he’s forced to walk through a cloud of smoke to get to class.

Adrian Phua, 23, another DePaul student, wondered whether he would have taken up smoking as a teenager had there been such an age restriction where he grew up in Malaysia. “I wish I would’ve never started,” he said.

But others, like Joseph Saye, 22, said younger smokers will be able to find ways around the law. Saye, a smoker since he was 19, said he doubts an older age requirement would have much effect.

George Georgiev, 26, agreed, saying younger smokers would get cigarettes as easily as they can get alcohol before their 21st birthday.

“Has the drinking age being 21 stopped people from drinking? No. They might have to use more resources to get around (age laws), but it hasn’t stopped it,” he said. “People will always find a way.”

But Lila Johnson, program manager for tobacco prevention and education at the Hawaii Department of Health, said the new study helped to convince officials there to establish a legal age of 21 for buying tobacco. Hawaii’s law, the only one of its kind in the country, became effective this month.

“The scientific basis landed right in our lap,” Johnson said. “We don’t see the negative side effects because it’s going to protect young people, it’s going to protect our vulnerable populations. We hope to be able to show the difference that it makes.”

Emanuel’s proposal also describes a goal of keeping tobacco out of the reach of young adults.

“Adolescents are more vulnerable than older adults to nicotine addiction, which can harm brain development, and 4 out of 5 adult smokers start before age 21,” the ordinance states. “Raising the legal age would put tobacco products on par with alcohol and protect young adults from developing a dangerous lifelong habit.”

Emanuel also announced his intention to raise tobacco product taxes, set minimum quantities of tobacco that can be sold and set minimum prices.

The ordinance calls for a 15-cent tax per little cigar in packages of no fewer than 20, raising the fees by $3. Standard-size cigars would carry a tax of 90 cents apiece in packs of at least four. Cigars costing more than $3 each still could be sold individually.

Roll-your-own tobacco would be taxed at $6.60 per ounce, bumping the cost of a small pouch from $7.25 to $11.54. Smokeless tobacco would have a $1.80-per-ounce tax, increasing the price on a standard can from $4.19 to $6.35.

The minimum price for a pack of cigarettes or little cigars and a small package of smoking tobacco would be $11.50. Standard-size cigars would cost no less than $1.74 each and smokeless tobacco would cost no less than $4 per ounce.

The 21-and-over law also would apply to electronic cigarettes, a mayoral spokeswoman said, but the tax increase would not. Emanuel already raised e-cigarette taxes for 2016.

Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno, 1st, Will Burns, 4th, and Ameya Pawar, 47th, co-sponsored the legislation.

“The use of smokeless tobacco and other tobacco products continues to soar because they are more inexpensive than cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean that they are any safer for Chicagoans to use,” Moreno said in a statement. Moreno previously floated the idea of taxing smokeless tobacco in September.

Should City Council members approve new pricing and age restrictions, it would be the latest in a series of moves targeting tobacco use.

Chicago consistently has ramped up tobacco taxes. The city leads the nation in federal, county, state and city taxes on cigarettes, which now total $7.17 per pack. The city added electronic cigarettes to its indoor smoking ban in 2014.
In the same year, the Chicago Park District expanded its ban on smoking to include public parks and harbors.

Jidong Huang, senior research scientist at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said an age requirement is just one component needed for effective tobacco control policy.

“If you want to reduce smoking of young adults, you want to limit the domains when and where they can smoke, and where they can purchase tobacco,” Huang said. “It’s a basket of tools and those tools work best when they’re working together.”

Southard of Northwestern Medicine agreed, saying a minimum-age law is good — but resources also should be devoted toward helping current smokers quit.

“This is the most difficult addiction of all to control,” Southard said. “What has impacted behavior most is cessation intervention.”

The growing push to raise the tobacco purchasing age evokes a similar effort to raise the drinking age nearly 40 years ago.

Drinking alcohol long was seen as a rite of passage — so much so that several states lowered the legal drinking age to 18 in the 1960s and 1970s, according to the National Institutes of Health.

But fatal alcohol-related traffic crashes spiked after that. The NIH said that alcohol affected 60 percent of all deadly crashes by the mid-1970s. Two-thirds of fatal accidents for people between the ages of 16 and 20 involved alcohol during that time.

President Ronald Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, which pledged to withhold federal highway funding from states that had not raised the legal drinking age to 21. Drunken-driving deaths have been cut in half since the early ‘80s, according to the NIH.

The Food and Drug Administration gained vast regulatory power over tobacco products in 2009, including control over how they are marketed. But in contrast to the drinking age mandate, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act expressly forbids the FDA from implementing a national minimum age for buying tobacco older than 18. Such authority remains at state and local levels.

However, public opinion seems to be warming to an older cigarette purchasing age. More than 100 cities including New York, Cleveland and Evanston, Ill., have enacted 21-and-up tobacco laws since 2005, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Forty-five states, including Illinois, set the minimum age at 18. State law is 19 in Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah, according to the CDC.

Hawaii is the only state to impose 21-and-up. New Jersey legislators recently passed a 21-and-up bill, but it is not yet clear whether Gov. Chris Christie will endorse or veto it.

A CDC article from July concluded that 75 percent of adults — including 70 percent of smokers — favored raising the minimum age to 21.

Johnson said Hawaii officials recognize they are not at the end of the road in terms of eradicating smoking, even though fewer and fewer people smoke in the state.

“As our numbers have gone down, we’ve seen the decrease in cardiac disease and lung cancer,” Johnson said. “Yes, you want people to stop smoking, but it doesn’t count until you get to those other outcomes. You want people to be healthier.”

The Chicago proposal next will be reviewed by the council’s finance committee.

Brussels blocks Big Tobacco lobbying push

Cigarette makers tried to influence Commission deliberations through a backdoor.

The European Commission has derailed an attempt by the tobacco industry to use a low-profile industry standards organization to sway Brussels on proposed changes to cigarette packaging.

Big Tobacco planned to use the outside group as a Trojan horse to push its preferred packaging technology over that of its competitors, according to documents obtained by POLITICO. The Commission faces a looming deadline to implement controversial and expensive “track and trace” measures that are intended to fight tobacco counterfeiting and smuggling.

The tobacco companies’ move backfired, the documents show. A top Commission health official intervened to scuttle the campaign and told the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) to keep out of the way. The organization, established by industry to set common standards for consumer goods, backed down and said it would defer to the Commission.

The behind-the-scenes clash is the latest skirmish between the tobacco lobby and the Commission, and comes at a politically trying time for cigarette makers. It follows the adoption of new EU laws through the 2014 Tobacco Products Directive that force tobacco companies to change their packaging to make them possible to trace through the distribution chain. The Commission must also choose from a range of high-tech digital watermarks to prevent counterfeit.

Big Tobacco’s lobbying efforts are an attempt to promote the industry’s in-house technology, called Codentify, over systems pushed by the world’s largest printers and packaging companies.

Codentify was developed by a consortium of the world’s top four tobacco companies: British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Group, Japan Tobacco International and Philip Morris International.

A senior Commission official said the Commission is waiting on the results of a second feasibility study and hasn’t made up its mind about which one to back. In the meantime, Commission officials refuse to see any lobbyists on the issue, tobacco lobbyists say.

The unusual and complex fight, which took place out of the public eye, highlights the creative lengths that the tobacco industry is going to in order to influence the EU when officials in Brussels are under political pressure to keep them at arm’s length.

It comes against the backdrop of another battle playing out in European capitals over the introduction of so-called “plain packaging” for tobacco products. The 2014 reforms did not mandate plain packaging but allowed EU member governments to adopt their own legislation to remove branding from cigarette packets.

Backdoor lobbying push

According to tobacco industry insiders who have spoken to POLITICO, the four companies backing Codentify, acting in a consortium called the Digital Coding and Tracking Association, were behind a push to involve CEN. The organization established a working committee to examine packaging standards under consideration in what was an attempt to influence the Commission’s own decision-making process.

One of three European, independently-run standardization organizations to have been recognized by the EU, CEN represents 33 national organizations. Its contributions often shape the implementation of EU laws across the bloc.

CEN announced its plan to examine packaging standards last July. The decision followed a formal request from a national standards body, Belgium’s Bureau for Standardization, but sources with direct knowledge of the decision said that request was driven by the tobacco industry’s Digital Coding and Tracking Association.

None of the four tobacco companies behind the Digital Coding and Tracking Association responded to requests for comment. The European Commission declined to comment.

While the Commission’s review considered a wide range of technologies and viewpoints, CEN documents reveal that the proposed committee would have focused on packaging. CEN recommended that a range of European groups with ties to the industry — as well as the Digital Coding and Tracking Association — be part of the panel.

Four of the seven industry bodies listed in CEN’s proposal said they had no idea that their organizations had been put forward and some expressed concern about being included.

“We were not involved in CEN’s request to establish this committee,” said Henri Barthel, the vice president of GS1, an industry organization that deals with global standards for consumer goods, including tobacco products. “They did not ask us to participate. It was not our request.”

“The initiative to request the creation of a CEN technical committee came from the [tobacco] industry,” Barthel added. “The [Belgian Bureau for Standardization] wouldn’t simply wake up one morning and decide to set up a committee.”

The Bureau for Standardization didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Some tobacco industry groups were surprised to find they had been named. “I was not aware that [we] had been proposed as a member of any such committee,” said Antonella Pederiva, from the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers.

Others objected to CEN’s exclusion of non-industry groups, in spite of its stated commitment to open the process up to “all stakeholders,” with a particular reference to “law enforcement, customs and other market surveillance authorities.”

“We do not understand why CEN has not questioned the involvement of [the tobacco industry] in the setting up of a ‘possible’ committee,” said members of the Smoke Free Partnership, an NGO that wrote a scathing letter to CEN over its plans to establish a committee.

“Let us remind you that economic operators have been, and continue to be, involved in the illegal trade of their own products,” the letter reads, referring to long-standing accusations that the tobacco industry had been aware of, and in some cases encouraged, the smuggling of its products to dodge taxes.

Smoke Free Partnership Director Florence Berteletti said she had no objection to the creation of common standards for tracing EU cigarette packages, but such decisions “should be made by independent experts, not by the tobacco industry trying to push for Codentify.”

Commission strikes back

While the correspondence obtained by POLITICO does not include the response from Andrzej Rys, a director at the Commission’s directorate general for health and food safety, CEN’s letter refers to Rys “expressing some concerns” about the “incompatibility of standardization processes” and the Commission’s legislative timetable.

“It is of course not our intention to duplicate any technical work or procedure, or to infringe any legislation,” CEN’s Elena Santiago Cid wrote to Rys. “However, your conclusion regarding the (in)compatibility of our standardization process and the legislative ones seem to be contradictory to [EU regulation].”

Industry insiders suggest CEN had not understood the political implications of establishing a technical body that would shadow work being done by the Commission. Rightly or wrongly, officials saw CEN’s push as interference by the tobacco lobby in the regulatory process and made sure the proposed committee never saw the light of day.

By late November 2015, CEN had backed away from its demands, telling the Commission it would abandon plans to form the technical committee and wait until the Commission finished its own consultations.

“For CEN … this is a question of principle,” Santiago Cid told POLITICO in an email. “We are convinced about the benefits of a coherent European legal framework, the voluntary nature of European standards and the complementary and different roles of standards and legislation.

These concepts did not seem to be well differentiated in the … legal documents.”

This backflip left industry observers aghast. “Frankly, it does not happen that often that the Commission manages to put a technical committee on ice,” said an expert working on standards.

Another prominent CEN member and tobacco lobbyist said the Commission saw the standards organization’s intervention in political terms, while in this person’s view the industry wanted to engage in the technical side of the “track and trace” requirements.

“We are going to have to redesign our packaging machines to include identification marks and number systems — we need a whole IT system behind us,” the lobbyist said. “We are facing a May 2016 deadline and it would have been nice to have some idea of what is expected of us.”

Lobbyists said the tobacco industry has been left in the dark about the changes. “What is always lost in the heat of the debate is whether changes are technically possible or not,” the lobbyist said.

“It might be a great idea — but what is its impact on industry?”

Other observers said the politics of the decision before the Commission can’t be ignored. “I am not surprised the Commission argued against CEN’s request,” said Barthel, from GS1. “At the end of the day, this is a business and political issue, rather than a technical one.”


It’s been a busy winter for the Wareham Board of Health. In November they banned smoking in city parks and beaches and yesterday they increased the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

In an unanimous 3-0 vote, the board approved the increase, which will go into effect on April 1. Also included in the package of changes was a requirement for cessation signs, a ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products, a minimum package size and price for cigars, and a prohibition on the sale of tobacco products within 500 feet of a school, according to Wicked Local Wareham.

T he board also approved an increase in the maximum fine for violating tobacco sales rules; while the town’s current penalties start at $100 for a first violation and then escalates to $200 for a second and $300 for a third, violations will now be $300 per instance, regardless of whether it was a first or second instance.

Wareham is home to nearly 22,000 residents and is located in the Cape Cod area, in the southeast corner of the state.

Operations exposes illegal cigarette trade in Galway

Illegal cigarettes can easily be bought in Galway city, an undercover operation into illicit tobacco trade suggests.

The survey, conducted in December by retired undercover detectives, reveals the ease with which cigarettes and loose tobacco can be purchased in the city.

It was paid for by one of the tobacco industry’s leading players, Philip Morris International, whose main brand of cigarette is Marlboro.

A Galway website dedicated to selling illegal tobacco was uncovered in the sting; and illegal cigarettes were purchased in city pubs, from customers and staff, as well as from people trading on the streets.

The authors of the report gathered intelligence that suggested illegal tobacco was also for sale in Tuam and Athenry. “In nearly every town now there are one or two outlets where you can buy illicit or illegal cigarettes,” said Kevin Donohoe, a retired Detective Chief Superintendant in the Garda Síochána.

All intelligence is forwarded to Revenue Customs and Gardaí, he said.

Mr Donohoe, along with Will O’Reilly, former Detective Chief Inspector with Scotland Yard, carried out the research into the illegal tobacco trade in Ireland. The pair and a team of buyers visited Galway and 14 other urban areas last year.

The team of four visited Galway on December 8 and 9 last year, and despite the extremely wet weather, found it was easy to buy illicit cigarettes.

In total ten illicit tobacco products were purchased during the operation. The haul included two packs of illicit cigarettes, one carton of illicit cigarettes, five pouches of illicit roll-yourown tobacco, and two clear plastic bags of loose cut tobacco leaf. The cigarettes were being sold at about half the price of normal retail prices.

“In Galway City purchases were made twice from staff in a public house, once from a customer in a public house, three times (including one repeat) from males selling via the internet, and twice from sellers in the street. Overall we found illicit tobacco products relatively easy to obtain,” the report said.