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Legal tobacco age will be 21

Come Jan. 1, 2018, only adults age 21 and older will be allowed to legally purchase and use tobacco and e-cigarettes on Guam.

Lawmakers unanimously passed Bill 9-34 on March 9. Without any action from the governor, the measure lapsed into law this week, raising the legal age to use tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Speaker Benjamin Cruz, D-Tumon, issued a statement Thursday on the passage of his measure.

“Armed with facts instead of fear — young people, health care professionals and countless community advocates persisted, and, because of their work, this bill is now law,” Cruz said.

Adelup Director of Communications Oyaol Ngirairikl said while the governor maintains his stance that residents should be free to choose, he also recognizes that a majority of the senators voted in favor of the measure, making it veto-proof.

Last year the Legislature passed a similar bill to raise the legal tobacco age to 21, but Calvo vetoed it, saying the bill was a “willful intrusion into the personal lives and choices of our citizens.”

During session earlier this month, senators amended the bill to double the fines for violators who sell tobacco to those not of legal age to use tobacco products.

Businesses that sell tobacco or e-cigarette products also must update posted notices alerting customers that tobacco products cannot be sold to people under 21 years old.

“Guam’s youth smoking rate is the highest in the nation,” Cruz said. “And at a time when tobacco kills more people than alcohol, car accidents and illicit drugs combined, how then can we ignore the fact that doing nothing would not only have protected Big Tobacco, but condemned future generations of young people to disease and death?”

‘Make a difference’

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network also applauded the new law.

“We believe it will make a difference in the lives of our youths by helping to spare them a lifetime of addiction from tobacco use, and therefore tobacco-related disease and death,” said Cathy Rivera Castro, the network’s ambassador constituent team lead.

Smoking rates in the island have declined in the last few years, but remain higher than the national average, according to the American Cancer Society. The smoking rate here is 27.4 percent, higher than national average of 17.5 percent, the organization said in its statement. And one in three local high school students uses electronic cigarettes, it said.

Health care professionals who supported Bill 9-34 cited a March 2015 Institute of Medicine report that projected tobacco use in the nation to drop by 12 percent if the legal smoking age was raised to 21.

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