By Will Sansom
UT Health San Antonio and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center applauded the actions of the San Antonio City Council in voting to implement an ordinance that would raise the minimum legal age of sale for all tobacco products from 18 to 21. The measure is the first of its kind in Texas, and is an important step toward protecting the health of future generations and reducing the burden of tobacco in the state.
“UT Health San Antonio seeks to make lives better through improved health for all,” said Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., associate director of the UT Health San Antonio Cancer Center and director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research, UT Health San Antonio. “The Tobacco 21 initiative fits perfectly with our ideals, as we seek to end or at least reduce the unnecessary disease and death that results from tobacco nicotine addiction. We are proud signatories on the initiative along with MD Anderson.”
“This effort will have a profound impact on children’s health and will be a significant step toward preventing the leading cause of preventable death in the United States: tobacco use,” said Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “MD Anderson is strongly committed to the promotion of evidence-based policies aimed at reducing cancer incidence and mortality over time, but more importantly, initiatives preventing our children from engaging in harmful behaviors leading to lifelong addiction to tobacco products.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use claims an estimated 480,000 lives each year. In Texas alone, tobacco is responsible for 28,000 deaths, more than $8.8 billion in direct health care expenses and another $8.2 billion in productivity losses each year.
Approximately 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they were 21. A recent study suggests that over two-thirds of those who try a cigarette become daily smokers. In the U.S., an estimated 2,300 children under 18 smoke their first cigarette each day, and roughly 350 become daily smokers. In Texas, every year about 12,300 children become daily smokers.
According to the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine), increasing the tobacco age to 21 across the U.S. would significantly reduce the number of adolescents and young adults who start smoking, reducing tobacco-related deaths and immediately improve the health of this population.
Five states in the U.S. already have enacted statewide laws raising the tobacco age, as have several major U.S. cities – including New York, Chicago, Boston and St. Louis – and more than 280 other cities and counties in 18 states.
UT Health San Antonio offers tobacco-cessation programs to the public in the UT Health Physicians practice and the UT Dentistry practice. UT Health San Antonio’s Institute for Health Promotion Research offers the Quitxt program, a bilingual service that sends texts with culturally and regionally tailored support to help South Texas young adults quit smoking.
In August 2017, the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded Dr. Ramirez’s team $1.3 million to expand Quitxt, The funding will enhance the Quitxt service with a new social media support component. Quitxt is currently designed to turn a user’s phone into a personal quit-smoking coach by providing texts and links to online support, educational content, music and videos.
Quitxt also will extend beyond South Texas to include English and Spanish speakers in rural counties, and Spanish speakers in urban areas of South, West and Central Texas.
“We are deeply honored to be able to expand and extend our Quitxt texting program to help young adults quit smoking across Texas,” Dr. Ramirez said.
Through MD Anderson’s EndTobacco program, an initiative of the cancer prevention and control platform of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, MD Anderson experts have served as educational resources to state and national legislators considering policies that would further reduce the burden of tobacco use. MD Anderson also provides a variety of tobacco prevention and cessation resources.
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